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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Crunch, written by Leslie Connor. Harper, 2010. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"I lay on my back in the attic room. Vince twitched in his sleep in his bed just a few feet away. I felt guilty for not telling him what I knew. If he had told Lil- even accidentally - she'd think I'd somehow lost control of things in the Bike Barn. And I hadn't. But we were being robbed - just a little. I was sure of it."

When I was teaching kindergarten in the early 70s, I read my kids their first school chapter book...The Boxcar Children. They loved it, and when they were reading independently they came back to the kindergarten to borrow it for a reread. I asked them what they loved about it, and it was mostly the fact that those kids could take care of themselves. They lived vicariously through them. They will do that now with the Mariss children as they take care of themselves and each other while their parents are caught in a fuel 'crunch'. The two older children, Lil and Dewey, have taken charge while their parents enjoy a short trip away from them. Their father is a trucker and their mother loves to go on an annual trip with him, while the children are out of school and content to be alone.

This year, they run into difficulty when a shortage of fuel means rationing and waiting in long lines to fill up. Mom and Dad are concerned with their children's well-being and phone daily to check. Lil is taking care of the house and its many demands as best she can. Dewey and his younger brother Vince are keeping their Dad's small bike shop operating, while the demand for repairs and parts rises exponentially. Most people are biking to get where they are going and they don't have the knowledge or tools to keep their bikes in excellent condition. So, they bring them to the Bike Barn. The needs are great, the work is hard and Dewey is wearing himself out with worry.

As the lines grow and customers become more insistent, Dewey and Lil try to balance running the business and providing for the other three siblings. They are overwhelmed with responsibility but lucky to have support from a tight-knit farming community. Their thieving neighbor takes a few eggs at a time, and occasionally needs their help with lawn mowing. When parts start to disappear from the bike shop, he is their chief suspect. Dewey is able to come face to face with the robber and the whole community is in for a big surprise.

This is a great family story and readers will find themselves cheering for Lil and Dewey to keep the family thriving despite setbacks. There will be much to discuss when sharing it with your children or students. What might happen if we don't have the fuel we need to live the lives that we are so accustomed to living? How would you and your family deal without fuel powered transportation? How would it change your life? What happens when trucks can't transport food, water, and the other materials that make our lives easier? There is a lot to consider here.

Luckily, the happy ending adds just the right touch!

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