Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Fun, Exciting Story for Parents Who Read to Kids

Although the historical novel for the juvenile and YA crowd seems to be going the way of the dodo (I expect mainly because the world has become so urbanized and suburbanized that kids can’t imagine what small town living was like in the 1950s—or earlier as in this novel), I still find the occasional novel to share with my nine-year-old that really rings true.

Darleen Bailey Beard’s Operation Clean Sweep is one of those books. It has the honest and wholesome goodness of The Andy Griffith Show but still manages to play out the push and shove of real emotions over real problems for youngsters.

I settled down to read this one to my son because it’s on the Oklahoma Sequoyah list this year, and I’m surprised I hadn’t found it earlier. It originally debuted in 2004.

Cornelius, "Corn" to his friends, is a welcome and genuine narrator in this story based on real political events early in the 20th century. It’s 1916 and women haven’t get been given the vote nationally, but a few states and territories have allowed them to vote. The world is all ready changing far faster than anyone at that time realizes.

Corn's dad is the town mayor, but he doesn't know that the women in town are tired of dragging their dresses through chicken poop in the streets and stepping over holes in the wooden sidewalks. Bailey paints a picturesque image of the town and the citizens. All of it feels real. Unknown to anyone in town (except the women), a secret coup takes shape among the women as they intend to run for office. Corn is astounded to learn that. But even worse is the fact hat his mom is going to run against his dad for mayor.

The writing is tight and clean. It lends itself to being read aloud to young listeners. Corn's troubles are the kind that every kid goes through, and he relates them in a matter-of-fact kind of way that's endearing. His infatuation with Birdine is warm and funny, and progresses naturally. The conversations Corn has with his mom and dad are good, full of values without being preachy.

The friendship between Corn and Oatmeal (Otis) is a riot. Oatmeal has fallen in love with his tape measure and is constantly measuring things or poking people with it. They hang out at the gravestone of a town founder who was buried in the middle of the street. The grave wasn’t intended to be there, but the town just kept growing and that’s where it ended up. The boy humor is just as real as the historical setting.

I read this one aloud to my nine-year-old and he cracked up a lot at the jokes, the stunts, and the whacky way the characters had of solving their problems. Such as Oatmeal’s advice that Corn imagine girls with a million boogers in their noses so they don’t seem so perfect.

In addition to the political war at home, Corn's problems with Birdine, and struggling to write his essay on the Great War (World War I), Corn also has to deal with Sticky Fingers Fred, the worst pickpocket in the area at the time. Although that part of the plot is predictable, it’s shoehorned right into the middle of the action at the election to pump up the excitement.

Darleen Bailey Beard has written one of those timeless books that school libraries should have on their shelves and parents should enjoy with their children.


Katie said...

Congrats for your mention on blogcritics! :)

Katie said...


or on

your on the book front page