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Cover image for Belle Prater's boy
Belle Prater's boy


1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1996.
Physical Description:
196 pages ; 22 cm
When Woodrow's mother suddenly disappears, he moves to his grandparents' home in a small Virginia town where he befriends his cousin and together they find the strength to face the terrible losses and fears in their lives. Everyone in Coal Station, Virginia, has a theory about what happened to Belle Prater, but twelve-year-old Gypsy wants the facts, and when her cousin Woodrow, Aunt Belle's son moves next door, she has her chance. Woodrow isn't as forthcoming as Gypsy hopes, yet he becomes more than just a curiosity to her-- during their sixth-grade year she finds that they have enough in common to be best friends. Even so, Gypsy is puzzled by Woodrow's calm acceptance of his mother's disappearance, especially since she herself has never gotten over her father's death. When Woodrow finally reveals that he's been keeping a secret about his mother, Gypsy begins to understand that there are different ways of finding the strength to face the truth, no matter how painful it is.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 4.4 5.0 15791.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.5 8 Quiz: 01062 Guided reading level: V.

AR 4.4 5.0.


Call Number
J White, R.

On Order



Around 5:00 a.m. on a warm Sunday morning on October 1953, my Aunt Belle left her bed and vanished from the face of the earth.

Everyone in Coal Station, Virginia, has a theory about what happened to Belle Prater, but twelve-year-old Gypsy wants the facts, and when her cousin Woodrow, Aunt Belle's son moves next door, she has her chance. Woodrow isn't as forthcoming as Gypsy hopes, yet he becomes more than just a curiosity to her-- during their sixth-grade year she finds that they have enough in common to be best friends. Even so, Gypsy is puzzled by Woodrow's calm acceptance of his mother's disappearance, especiallysince she herself has never gotten over her father's death. When Woodrow finally reveals that he's been keeping a secret about his mother, Gypsy begins to understand that there are different ways of finding the strength to face the truth, no matter how painful it is.

Belle Prater's Boy is a 1996 Boston Globe - Horn Book Awards Honor Book for Fiction and a 1997 Newbery Honor Book.

Author Notes

Ruth White is the author of Sweet Creek Holler , an ALA Notable Book, and Weeping Willow , an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-This Newbery Honor winner tells a story by 12-year-old Gypsy. Everyone in Coal Station, Virginia, has a theory about what happened to Belle Prater, but Gypsy wants the facts. When her cousin Woodrow, Aunt Belle's son, moves next door, she has her chance. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Returning to the early `50s, western Virginia setting of Sweet Creek Holler and Weeping Willow, White serves up a novel so fresh that readers can practically smell the lilacs and the blossoming fruit trees. Gypsy, the 12-year-old narrator, is all excited when her cousin Woodrow moves in with their grandparents next door-Woodrow's mother, married to a coal miner in a remote holler, has disappeared without a trace, and Gypsy hopes that Woodrow will divulge some new clues. Instead, she gets a best friend, someone who, in spite of unwelcome attention for having crossed eyes and being "Belle Prater's boy," charms everyone in school with his good-natured if mischievous wit. Gypsy cannot understand Woodrow's self-possession in the wake of his mother's desertion, but Woodrow, on the other hand, understands Gypsy's pain at her father's long-ago suicide better than Gypsy does. Pitching her narrative in a genial, mountain-folks twang, White creates vivacious, memorable characters whose openheartedness should not be mistaken for naïveté. She gives her protagonists the courage to face tragedy and transcend it-and the ability to pass along that gift to the reader. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

Illustrated by Fritz Wegner. The Brown family hopes to change their rather boring existence by contacting their Writer and asking for improvements. When Mrs. Brown complains that she finds "hoovering" terribly monotonous, the author manipulates things so that the milkman drinks a strange potion, turns into a madman, and steals the vacuum cleaner. Each chapter features one of the members of the Brown family, and each adventure is patterned after a different literary event. Young readers may not recognize how like Stevenson's Mr. Hyde the milkman behaves, but they will enjoy Billy's adventure with a Snowman (not Raymond Briggs's - the "other Snowman"). This novel-about-a-novel asks the question, Who is in control of a piece of fiction, the author or the characters? The complex plot maneuverings and shifting perspectives are at times confusing, but the book is clever and often very funny, not to mention very British. m.v.k. Nina Bawden Granny the Pag Cat has often wished that the Pag were "soft and powdery" like other grandmothers instead of a semi-retired psychiatrist who wears dusty long black skirts pinned together with a huge brooch to hide the ripped places or jeans and motorbike leathers when she's riding about on her Harley. Cat lives with the Pag in a house filled with dogs and cats and visited occasionally by the few frail and peculiar patients her grandmother still sees. Now that Cat is twelve, her actor parents have given up their itinerant life and want her to come live with them. Horrified at the thought of leaving the Pag and moving in with Lisa and Daddy-O, who remind her of a pair of Barbie dolls, Cat visits a lawyer on her own to find out what her rights are. An ancillary plot concerning a school bully who terrifies Cat until she comes to understand his particular frailty is only mildly diverting and never convincingly integrated into the major storyline. The best part of the book is the mix of interesting characters that make up Cat's eccentric family, and Bawden's clear-eyed, if not groundbreaking, exploration of how dangerous life can seem to children when their sense of family stability is jeopardized. n.v. Lenore Blegvad A Sound of Leaves Illustrated by Erik Blegvad. Sylvie, a nine-year-old city child, takes her first vacation to the beach with her mother, grandmother, and brother. She marvels at and is nervous about the strange new environment. Without her father (he had to stay in the city to work) she does not feel entirely safe, but she comes to love and appreciate what the countryside has to offer. Sylvie manages to make a new friend, in spite of the prejudice of local children. The tree outside her bedroom window that brushes against the windowpanes comes to represent for Sylvie the many new things she is experiencing. When, without her father's help, she figures out how to open the stuck window and let the branches into her room, Sylvie recognizes her newly developed confidence. This short chapter book about emerging self-assurance and the joy and difficulty of new experiences is liberally illustrated with Erik Blegvad's quiet, complementary drawings. m.v.k. Karen Cushman The Ballad of Lucy Whipple g Exchanging her medieval landscape for the sprawling California panorama of the Gold Rush years, Cushman in her third novel holds to her theme of a young feminist searching for a place to call home. Twelve-year-old California Morning Whipple, self-named a respectable, staid Lucy, tells her story as the only member of her family unsettled about having to move to California from her safe coziness in civilized Massachusetts. She believes her "heart's desire" is to return to her New England home. No matter that we know from the beginning that California Whipple will likely warm to the western climate to which she has been dragged by her adventurous, recently widowed mother - a mother spirited enough to name her other children Butte, Sierra, and Prairie. Self-absorbed Lucy does not comprehend that her expansive imagination, fed by the books she treasures, matches perfectly the spacious landscape she claims to abhor. In forlorn, histrionic letters to her grandparents that punctuate the text, Lucy vents her miserableness and the injustice of her uprooted position. Sounding like the self-dramatizing Anne of Green Gables, she concludes one early missive, "I am bodaciously sorrow-burdened and wretched!" It is her language (Western slang creeps into her vocabulary as she surprises herself with her danged this and dag diggety that) that energizes and humanizes this story of the footnote people of those extravagant Gold Rush years - the women and children who came not to strike it rich but to tame the land for their home. What we get is balladic indeed, not just "the extraordinary doin's of ordinary folk" but equally the ordinary doings of extraordinary folk. susan p. bloom Peter Dickinson Chuck and Danielle Illustrated by Kees de Kiefte. Chuck is a whippet who gives new meaning to the word paranoia. She knows that everything is out to get her. When teddy bears, snarling monstercats, or motorcycles that make loud, dog-eating noises come after her, Chuck bolts. The ruckus that follows is enough to prove her point. Luckily, she is usually rescued by Danielle, who is sure that some day Chuck will save the universe. (Danielle and her mother have an agreement that on that lucky day her Mum will take Danielle to McDonald's for a Big Mac. Mum feels pretty safe agreeing to this.) Miraculously, this actually comes about when Chuck provides the opportunity for Danielle to learn about her father, whom she has never known. If it isn't the entire universe that Chuck has saved, it's that portion of it that matters most to Danielle and her mum. In the seven funny episodes that make up this short novel, Dickinson gives us a glimpse of life in a small, modern, close-knit family as seen through the perspective of their pet's nervous doggy eyes. Although the illustrations, large type, and brief length make the book look like it's for younger children, the unusual point of view, the many personal asides to the reader, and the frequent switching of tenses will probably limit the book's audience to a more sophisticated readership. n.v. Michael Dorris Sees Behind Trees In preparation for the coming-of-age test to determine who among the boys has become a man, each boy's mother teaches him to shoot a bow and arrow accurately. Walnut, however, "sees like a mole" and so must learn to see with his ears. At summer's end, the weroance - chief and hunting expert and female to boot - announces that the regular shooting test is put off until "someone with the ability to see what can't be seen" is identified. Because of his finely tuned hearing, Walnut is able to herald the approach of Gray Fire, the weroance's brother, and is given a new name, Sees Behind Trees, assuming an elevated role within the community. Sees Behind Trees accompanies Gray Fire on a journey to find the land of water, a place of contentment and beauty Gray Fire has been searching for. During their journey they meet strangers, experience beauty, and ultimately endure loss. Sees Behind Trees earns his manhood as he alone returns to his village with the knowledge that his journey will ultimately continue. While the plot, though intriguing, is not entirely convincing and sometimes bogs down in lengthy philosophical discourse, this short novel creates a strong sense of place and provides a glimpse of those - the Powhatan Indians of Virginia - who once inhabited it. m.b.s. Susan Fletcher Sign of the Dove In this sequel to Flight of the Dragon Kyn and Dragon's Milk, the draclings have finally hatched and are being mercilessly tracked down for their hearts, which are reputed to confer magical powers of defense. The heroine, Lyf, who was healed as a child by dragon's milk, has been overprotected by her mother since her illness and believes that she is frail and powerless. She finds herself, by a series of unfortunate circumstances, in charge of the draclings, who must be fed, protected, and taken on a hazardous journey. As she struggles to save the charming and irrepressible draclings, always hungry and always mischievous, she grows in competence and independence. Her trials and successes and the perils of their journey make an absorbing fantasy and a happy conclusion to this saga. a.a.f. Toby Forward Pie Magic Illustrated by Laura Cornell. Bertie is forever being teased; he is very fat - "the fattest boy they had ever seen at his school." One day, making his rounds on his job as delivery boy for a bakery, he meets a mysterious customer who gives him a potion to help Bertie lose weight. The next morning, Bertie is as fat as ever, but floating on the ceiling. Bertie (weighed down with tin pants and clogs) searches on his bicycle for the elusive Mr. Gupta in hopes of reversing the situation. It is on this quest that he discovers that with some exercise and a new regime of healthy food he can become a bit thinner on his own and, more importantly, stand up to the bullies who tease him. There is a good deal of fantasy, some silliness, and a bit of wisdom in Forward's short novel. The light tone, accessible format, and breezy line drawings will help assure this book a wide readership. m.v.k. Mary Downing Hahn Following My Own Footsteps g To escape Gordy's abusive father, Gordy and his mother and siblings go to live with their grandmother. Gordy's grandmother is stern and has high expectations, but gradually Gordy learns to live with the structure she imposes and to control his own temper. He is also influenced by his friendship with William, a boy who is wheelchair-bound after contracting polio. When Gordy's alcoholic father comes back to reclaim his family, promising that things will change, Gordy sees through him and refuses to go. This means he may never see his mother again, but Gordy realizes that she will never stand up for her children. In contrast, his authoritarian grandmother demands much of him because she loves him. Hahn tells a moving story grounded in the events and social fabric of the place and period, the World War II homefront. Gordy changes convincingly from an unlikable child who picks fights and protects himself by shutting off his feelings to a strong boy determined to make the right decisions and care about people. When his grandmother suggests that at the start of junior high school Gordy has a chance to make a new reputation for himself, the reader is convinced that Gordy, with William and his grandmother's help, will be able to overcome his past and follow his "own footsteps." Hahn brings many issues, including alcoholism, abuse, and definitions of courage, into her story and handles them deftly. Those who have read Hahn's earlier Stepping on the Cracks (Clarion) will recognize Gordy and see the relationship between the two books, but Following My Own Footsteps can easily be read independently. m.v.k. Mary Downing Hahn The Gentleman Outlaw and Me - Eli: A Story of the Old West Eliza Yates, who reinvents herself as Elijah Bates when she runs away from her unloving relatives, is headed west in search of her absent father. She finds Calvin Featherbone, left for dead by muggers, and so begins a funny, cliff-hanging melodrama that features a sparkling text containing rapid-fire dry humor and a determined heroine who manages everything to her satisfaction. Natural dialogue and just enough historic detail to ground the story are strengths, as is the plot, reminiscent but not derivative of both The Great American Elephant Chase (Holiday) by Gillian Cross and Gideon and the Mummy Professor (Farrar) by Kathleen Karr. The book is tailor-made to satisfy a youngster's ache for high adventure. e.s.w. Betsy Hearne Eliza's Dog Eliza might as well be an only child. Her half-sister Mary is in college, and Eliza knows that Mary is wonderful "because everyone said so." So when Eliza finally gets the dog she has begged for, she has the company and unconditional love she needs. She also has a lot more work than she expected. As she learns the responsibility involved in owning and caring for a dog, Eliza also begins to see her parents and older sister in new ways and to grow up herself. Eliza is a funny, likable character with strong passions (she refuses to eat meat because "chickens and dogs are probably related, way back through the dinosaurs"). The story of a bright almost-ten-year-old who spends a lot of time alone and finds companionship in her dog will ring true for young readers. A pleasing, well-told story. m.v.k. Lois Lowry See You Around, Sam! g Illustrated by Diane de Groat. Lowry looks deep into the I'm-running-away! scenario to invest an old story with truth, vigor, and laughs. After Katherine Krupnik tells son Sam that he absolutely may not wear his new plastic vampire fangs in the house, Sam decides to run away to Alaska, where he will lie around in a pile with walruses, and, less attractively, eat fish and blubber - or so he is told by Mrs. Sheehan, just one of the neighbors Sam encounters on his great escape. His fangs, his suitcase, and his heart get heavier at each stop Sam makes, and while we are not surprised by the closing welcome-home party the Krupniks throw for Sam and the neighborhood, we're happy. Unlike many books about preschoolers for older children, this one respects both subject and audience, and while Sam is clearly prey to a host of adult good intentions, his cause seems just and his dignity is ever intact. r.s. Eloise McGraw The Moorchild McGraw's fairy story is told from an unusual point of view: that of a changeling - a half-human, half-Moorfolk child who is banished from the Mound and exchanged for a human baby from a nearby village. As she grows up, Saaski struggles with her differentness, finding solace only on the moors, in her friendship with an itinerant goat-boy, and in her bagpipes. Eventually, the superstitious village rises against her, and, in the most compelling section of the book, Saaski uses all that she has learned among the humans and the little she has begun to remember about her former life to rescue the human child she replaced years before. The novel is lengthy, dwelling perhaps too long on the years and years of Saaski's misery at not belonging. But Saaski is a sympathetic character (the fulfilling life she finds at book's end comes as a great relief to the reader), and McGraw's is an original tale, yet true to the classic portrayals of the amoral sidhe by writers such as Katharine Briggs and Mollie Hunter. m.v.p. Judith Benét Richardson First Came the Owl Nita feels lost when her mother is hospitalized for depression and her father goes off shore on his Coast Guard ship. While staying with her friend's family, Nita encounters a snowy owl on the beach. Strengthened by the beauty and mystery of the animal, she accepts the role of Snow White in a school play, and the shy, withdrawn child comes alive when playing the princess. Through her experiences Nita comes to imagine something about the way her mother, a war bride from Thailand, must feel living so far from everything she knows. Nita makes a connection with her mother by remembering some Thai words and doing a school report on Thailand. In a satisfying ending, Nita's mother is well enough to see Nita act in the play, and the family returns home together. Richardson's prose is rich in imagery and figurative language, which slows the novel down at times but for the most part suits this story about the power of images. Nita is passionate and sensitive, and it is this sensitivity that allows her to enter the minds of her mother and Snow White so well. A family crisis becomes an opportunity for growth in Richardson's hopeful novel. m.v.k Leon Rosselson Rosa and Her Singing Grandfather Illustrated by Marcia Sewall. This disarming British import introduces one of the most memorable grandparents since Janetta tangled with hers at Granddaddy's Place (Greenwillow). Rosa looks after her grandfather when she goes to his flat after school, and he returns the favor by telling her stories about his youth (which her mother insists aren't all to be believed) and by teaching her songs. Grandfather loves to sing - loudly, and at any opportunity. Sometimes his music brings unexpectedly happy results. The first time he went to the opera, for example, he sang along with the performers "to help them out" and was whacked on the head for his trouble by a beautiful young woman who later became his wife and Rosa's grandmother. At other times, chaos ensues, as happened at Rosa's Christmas concert when he led the school choir in such a noisy rendition of "Silent Night" the audience had to block their ears. But Rosa always takes his side, and he helps her find answers to important questions such as whether her grandmother can smell the flowers they put on her grave and why she has no father. The special relationship between Rosa and Grandad is depicted with sensitivity and a gentle humor that diminishes neither one. Readers will be beguiled not only by the characters in this episodic novel but also by the songs Rosa learns. Lyrics like "never put your elbows on the table while you eat / But leave a little room for other folks to park their feet" make this an excellent read-aloud choice. n.v. Charlotte Watson Sherman Eli and the Swamp Man Illustrated by James Ransome. Ever since his parents divorced three years ago, Eli has missed his dad. He finds his stepfather Ari's jokes stupid and his lectures on African warriors and chiefs, complete with costumes and artifacts, boring. An upcoming family trip, during which Ari will take part in a performance commemorating the days when the Seminole Indians helped hide runaway African slaves, gives Eli an idea. He will run away himself and go find his father in Alaska. On the way, though, Eli has to pass through a nearby swamp that is inhabited by a monster of local legend. The "Swamp Man" is rumored to bite off children's ears and chase them up trees. What Eli discovers instead is a recluse in ragged clothes who helps him find his lost salamander and shares his canned beans and coffee, all the while listening to the boy discuss his plans and asking some gentle and probing questions. Eli returns home a little wiser, not only about the mysterious man in the swamp but also about himself and his place in his family. Minor characters, while sketchy, are extended in artwork that provides a welcome break for younger readers from solid blocks of text and adds substance to this simple story. Eli's story is honest in its description of the emotional turmoil that can linger for a child years after parents break up. n.v. Jerry Spinelli Crash Crash, so named for his tendency to crash his way through life, is a star football player. He torments Penn, a classmate who is everything Crash is not - friendly, small, vegetarian, pacifist. The first section of the novel is Crash's first-person memoir of meeting the "weird," definitely-not-friend-material Penn when they were both entering first grade; the rest of the novel takes place during seventh grade. When his grandfather comes to live with his family and suffers a debilitating stroke, Crash comes to see value in many of the things he has scorned in Penn. In a satisfying, if unrealistic, ending, Crash and Penn become best friends. Spinelli deals with intriguing themes in his fast-paced, readable novel. Penn's parents are loving and supportive in contrast to Crash's parents, who never come to a football game or make time for their children. Penn represents all that is valued in the book - kindness, tolerance, individuality, and persistence. Like Maniac Magee, he is too good to be true. Crash, on the other hand, makes a great number of errors in judgment but, with adult nurturing, makes the right choice when it most counts. Although not entirely convincing, Spinelli's lively novel is great fun to read. m.v.k. Ruth White Belle Prater's Boy Gypsy is a sixth grader when her cousin Woodrow comes to live with her grandparents next door. Woodrow shares with Gypsy his fears and secrets surrounding his mother's mysterious disappearance, and the two become close friends. Both young adolescents feel deserted by their parents - Gypsy's adored father committed suicide when she was five - and, needing to define themselves apart from these tragedies, the two encourage each other to take steps toward independence. Gypsy has beautiful hair, kept long in spite of its complicated maintenance because of a promise to Gypsy's father that it would never be cut. Finally, in an act of anger and defiance, Gypsy hacks off all her hair so that others can see "there is a person in here!" In so doing, Gypsy acknowledges that her father was human and flawed, and she begins to accept her loving, patient stepfather. Despite the title, this is Gypsy's story, as she, with Woodrow's help, emerges from her cocoon to recognize both the good and the sorrowful in her world. White's characters are strong - Woodrow is especially endearing with his many eccentricities and vulnerabilities - and her storytelling is rich in detail and emotion. Both the words and the cadence of the prose evoke the coal-mining region of Virginia, which also served as the setting of her previous novels, Sweet Creek Holler and Weeping Willow (both Farrar). m.v.k. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Gr. 5^-9. When her poor, cross-eyed, hill country cousin, Woodrow, comes to live next door, Gypsy thinks she'll get on the inside track of a family mystery, the disappearance of Woodrow's mother. Gypsy soon learns, however, that Woodrow isn't talking, so she begins concentrating, instead, on his thoughtful nature, puckish charm, and talent for telling grand stories. It's only during odd moments that Gypsy catches a glimpse of Woodrow's real sadness, but to push him to talk about his mother before he's ready might mean Gypsy would have to face up to a painful secret of her own. Several themes neatly dovetail in this unpretentious, moving story set in Appalachia in the 1950s. Humor and insight infuse a solid picture of small-town life as two strongly depicted young characters uncover an important truth some grown-ups never learn. --Stephanie Zvirin