cover image The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs

Betty G. Birney, , illus. by Matt Phelan. . S&S/Atheneum, $16.95 (210pp) ISBN 978-0-689-87136-8

How do you keep them down on the farm after they've read about the Seven Wonders of the World? That's one of the heart-tugging questions gently raised in Birney's (The World According to Humphrey ) tender and captivating gem of a novel. Farm life in dusty Sassafras Springs, Mo., in the early 1920s seems pretty boring to young Eben McAllister, who longs to see the world's big cities, the pyramids and the other grand things that he's pored over in books. He may get his wish, too, when he accepts his father's challenge to find seven true wonders right in his hometown. The prize is a train journey to visit relatives in Colorado. Eben's search turns up the sparkle to be found in everyday life when one takes the time to look—and even listen—for it. Through a series of neighbors' and his own family's colorful accounts, Eben finds a bit of surprising magic right under his nose, and begins to view the people around him differently, too. Birney's engaging, memorable cast and homespun phrasing convey a comfortable, porch-sitting tone that emphasizes the power of story. Phelan makes his children's book debut with the accompanying sweet, rustic pencil drawings that bring Eben's journey into clearer view; he often places silhouettes of characters gazing at one another across a spread, to pique readers' interest. One full-page drawing per Wonder helps dramatize why each qualifies for the definitive septet. Ages 8-12. (July)