A novel told in a strong Southern voice
Ruth Ann Tillman loves to sing, especially the solo in the annual Babbs Switch, Oklahoma, Christmas Tree Celebration. And no matter what Elden Larrs says teasingly, she’s good. But this year, 1924, Mom and Pop won’t let Ruthie perform. The problem is Daphne, her sister. At sixteen, four years older than Ruthie, Daphne still carries her one-armed, bald-headed doll for comfort and reaches out to stroke anything soft and soothing. When she almost smothers Mrs. Larrs’s baby this way, Mom and Pop know they’re in trouble – and that Ruthie had better not appear on the schoolhouse stage. Ruthie is indignant. Why does she have to share her life with such an oddball sister? Christmas Eve arrives, and Ruthie goes to the celebration, even though she can’t participate, and even though “daffy” Daphne is at her side. At least she can see Elden. Then the schoolhouse catches fire, as it really did on that night in Babbs Switch, and Ruthie discovers what her sister means to her.
Inspired by a tragedy, Darleen Bailey Beard’s tribute to Babbs Switch is nonetheless filled with humor and warmth and the charm of first romance.
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Darleen Bailey Beard is the author of The Flimflam Man, which has appeared on several state award reading lists, and Twister. She lives with her son and daughter in Norman, Oklahoma.
Grades 6-9--This slight historical novel follows 12-year-old Ruth Ann Tillman as she comes to terms with changing friendships, her older sister's disability, and a devastating schoolhouse fire. It's 1924 and Ruthie is growing up in a small Oklahoma town. Some of the townspeople think her older sister belongs in an institution, but Ruthie knows that Daphne is just different. At 16, she still doesn't understand that squeezing a kitten too hard can kill it. When Ruthie is chosen to sing the solo in the school's Christmas pageant, she's thrilled. Then Daphne, who has a passion for soft things, nearly suffocates a neighbor's infant. To keep the family out of the spotlight, Ruthie's parents forbid her to perform. Everything comes to a head at the pageant, where a candle on the Christmas tree ignites the crowded one-room schoolhouse. With Daphne presumed dead, Ruthie finally realizes how much her sister means to her. Then, in a twist that is far too neat, the teen is found alive and is a hero after rescuing the very baby she nearly killed earlier in the book. Beard's novel is based on a real event, a fire that killed 36 people and led to new safety laws nationwide. However, the story deals more with Ruth Ann's personal dilemmas than the historical tragedy. It is a quick read, packed with period detail, but much of the novel isn't particularly memorable and the happily ever after ending defies belief.
Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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