Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book Review: Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant (ARC)

Flora Smallwood and her parents live in Rosetown, Indiana, home to Flora's favorite used bookstore, Wings and a Chair, her new friend Yury, who has moved from the Ukraine and shares her love for vintage children's books, and her oldest friend, Nessy, who has been by her side since the girls were five years old. Flora loves Rosetown, but she does not love the feelings of uncertainty surrounding the recent death of her dog, her parents' separation, and the start of fourth grade.  Thankfully, however, in idyllic Rosetown, nothing terrible seems to last too long.

This gentle novel set in 1972 and 1973 is perfect for sensitive readers who like quieter, more introspective stories with minimal conflict and definite positive resolutions. Though there are problems facing Flora in this book, they are mostly the problems of everyday life as a nine-year-old, and each of these ends up on a hopeful note.

Rosetown itself is much like the little towns that often serve as backdrops to cozy mysteries, and all the little shops and their proprietors really appealed to me. While no small town is ever this perfect in reality, it can often feel that way to the kids who grow up there, and I think Rylant really does a nice job of highlighting Flora's all-encompassing love for her hometown, which makes it appear idyllic in her young eyes.

I was also thrilled to see a reference to the "new" Cricket magazine, to which Flora's teacher suggests she submit a story. Unfortunately, after reading Ms. Yingling's review, I learned that Cricket didn't begin publication until September of 1973, while Flora's teacher shows her a copy already printed in April. This doesn't ruin the story, but it is annoying, especially because the publication date of the first issue is readily available on Wikipedia and because pushing the whole story just one year into the future could have solved the problem!

Because of Flora's love for vintage and used books, this book is particularly appealing to me and my family, and I am probably biased in its favor. Even so, I think there is a lot to like about this book, especially for third and fourth graders who are ready for novels with descriptive language but maybe don't want to read about the concerns of middle schoolers just yet. I have been lamenting the loss of this type of short and sweet middle grade novel in recent years; I hope this book represents the beginning of its return.

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