Based on the childhood of the author’s mother, this engaging episodic novel follows the everyday adventures of third-grader Anna Sherwood growing up in pre-WWI Baltimore. Anna is “ein kluges M,dchen”-a clever girl, in her mother’s native German-who likes reading better than arithmetic (“All you can do with numbers is make prob-lems. But you can make stories and poems with words”); she’s also something of a tomboy. The novel moves from fall to summer as Anna conquers long division (having previously resorted to cheating); battles with her mother over the color of a new winter coat (Anna wants bright red, Mother wants “drab and boring” brown); “split[s] her chin wide open” roller-skating down the steepest hill in Baltimore on a dare; and is judged grown-up enough to ride the trolley downtown to have lunch with her father. All the chapters are informed by Hahn’s able evo-cation of time and place-a Baltimore of groceries delivered by horse-drawn wagon and streets lit by gas lamps-and of the specific characters who inhabit it. Many of the episodes are driven by the tension between Anna and her strict, old-fashioned mother (in one of the best chapters, “Anna’s Birthday Surprise,” Anna, desperate to have a birthday party despite Mother’s refusal, secretly issues invitations and then, with a mixture of hope and dread, waits to see what will happen when her friends arrive); the tension is always defused by the unqualified love between Anna and her father. Hahn’s use of the present tense to tell Anna’s stories helps keep nostalgia at bay, as does the energetic, just-dashed-off quality of deGroat’s rough pencil sketches.
Mary Downing Hahn, a former children’s librarian, is the award-winning author of many popular ghost stories. An avid reader, traveler, and all-around arts lover, Ms. Hahn lives in Columbia, Maryland. Visit her online at www.marydowninghahnbooks.com.