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Children's Literature Reviews
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Getting near to baby
Audrey Couloumbis.
New York : Putnam, c1999.
211 p.


Although thirteen-year-old Willa Jo and her Aunt Patty seem to be constantly at odds, staying with her and Uncle Hob helps Willa Jo and her younger sister come to terms with the death of their family's baby.

Best Books:

Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for PreK-Grade 6, 13th Edition, 2002 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2000 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Books for You: An Annotated Booklist for Senior High, Fourteenth Edition, 2001 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Capitol Choices, 1999 ; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Children's Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Children's Literature Choice List, 2000 ; Children's Literature; United States
Kirkus Book Review Stars, 1999 ; United States
Middle And Junior High School Library Catalog, Eighth Edition, 2000 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Notable Children's Books, 2000 ; ALSC American Library Association; United States
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, September 1999 ; Cahners; United States
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education; California
School Library Journal Best Books, 1999 ; Cahners; United States
School Library Journal Book Review Stars, October 1999 ; Cahners; United States
VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers, 2000 ; Voice of Youth Advocates; United States

Awards, Honors, Prizes:

John Newbery Medal, 2000 Honor Book United States

State and Provincial Reading Lists:

Maine Student Book Award, 2000-2001 ; Nominee; Maine
South Carolina Junior Book Award, 2001-2002 ; Nominee; South Carolina
Sunshine State Young Reader's Award, 2001-2002 ; Nominee; Grades 6-8; Florida

Curriculum Tools:

Link to Discussion Guide at Multnomah County Library
Link to Discussion Guide at Scholastic

Reading Measurement Programs:

Accelerated Reader
Interest Level Upper Grade
Book Level 5.1
Accelerated Reader Points 6
Accelerated Vocabulary, Literacy Skills

Lexile, MetaMetrics, Inc.
Lexile Measure 740

Reading Counts-Scholastic
Interest Level 6-8
Reading Level 6
Title Point Value 11
Lexile Measure 740


Michael Cart (Booklist, November 1, 1999 (Vol. 96, No. 5))
When their baby sister dies and their mother slips into a depression, 12-year-old Willa Jo and Little Sister are taken to live with their mother's older sister. Aunt Patty is a take-charge kind of person--good-hearted but bossy. It doesn't take long for Willa Jo, herself an older sister, to get fed up her with her aunt's ideas of what's good for her nieces. That's not why the girls wind up out on the roof, but it may be why they refuse to come back into the house. Don't ask Little Sister for the answer, though; she stopped talking when Baby died. No amount of cajoling will force her to speak, but Willa Jo is eloquent enough for both. Set in North Carolina, the story is told in Willa Jo's distinctly Southern voice, a treat to hear but sometimes too adult to believe. The characters are credible, though, engaging and multidimensional. So is their grief and the ways they deal with it so they can, once again, get "near to Baby." Couloumbis' first novel wears its heart on one sleeve and its humor on the other. Together, they make a splendid fit. Category: Older Readers. 1999, Putnam, $17.99. Gr. 5-9.

Mary Quattlebaum (Children's Literature)
The family struggles to make a new beginning after a terrible loss. The first person narrator, Willa Jo, is by turns angry, frightened, sad, and hopeful as she reflects on the death of her baby sister. No easy answers here, but the girl's resilience and humor shine through as she sits and thinks on the roof for one day while her aunt below rails and begs her to come down. 1999, Putnam, $17.99. Ages 10 up.

Gisela Jernigan, Ph.D. (Children's Literature)
While spending a long, hot summer day sitting on Aunt Patty's high, slanting roof might seem both foolish and boring to most people, it serves as a framework for a series of flashbacks depicting the difficult adjustments of twelve-year-old Willa Jo and Little Sister since the death of their youngest sister, Baby, and their separation from their grieving mother. Snatched away from their depressed mother by a well-meaning, but bossy and fussy Aunt Patty, the girls struggle with their aunt's over-fastidiousness, her misguided attempts to influence their choice of friends, and her attempt to force the temporarily mute Little Sister to speak. In spite of the sad subject matter of the novel, the author does a good job of weaving humorous incidents with the tragedy of death and grieving, resulting in a story that is both amusing and poignant. The use of flashbacks make this novel more suitable for mature and accomplished readers. 1999, Putnam, $17.99. Ages 11 to 14.

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1999)
Couloumbis's debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby's sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called "Little Sister," in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby's death, but also artfully illuminates each character's depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. 1999, Putnam, $17.99. Starred Review. © 1999 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
In her first novel for children, Couloumbis deftly constructs an intricate montage of thoughts and memories from the perspective of 12-year-old Willa Jo Dean who, with Little Sister, mourns the death of their baby sister. As the story opens, Willa Jo and Little Sister are sitting on the roof, ignoring their Aunt Patty's orders to come down. Over the course of a single day, Willa Jo, from her high perch, mulls over the events of the past few weeks: her mother's depression, Little Sister's refusal to talk and Aunt Patty's efforts to make things right by taking the girls into her home. But Aunt Patty and her nieces don't see things the same way. Willa Jo and Little Sister would rather play with the children across the street (dirty "mole rats," in Aunt Patty's opinion) than attend Bible School or associate with the socially acceptable daughters of Aunt Patty's friends. The tension rises until Uncle Hob, in his soft-spoken way, forms a bridge of understanding that unites them all. Willa Jo's narrative, with its subtle cadences of a Southern drawl, achieves a child's sense of the timelessness of long summer days stretching before her. Coloumbis infuses the heroine's voice with an elegiac quality, even as the child's humor and determination to keep up Little Sister's spirits shine through. The tale of this one day on the roof chronicles the changes in the other three characters as much as the changes in Willa Jo, and the combined strength of this unforgettable cast of characters leaves a lasting and uplifting impression. Ages 10-up. (Sept.)

Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November 1999 (Vol. 53, No. 3))
Family tragedy has sent Willa Jo and her little sister off to their aunt Patty’s, and they’re having a hard time settling in. Little Sister has refused to speak and Willa Jo has refused to be the docile showroom thirteen-year-old girl that her aunt desires, instead befriending the unsuitable girl across the street, getting ejected from Bible school, and finally driving Patty to distraction by climbing out onto the roof to ruminate. This last excursion opens the novel, which then stretches into flashbacks to reveal Willa Jo’s grief-stricken anger, Aunt Patty’s essentially good heart, and the deterioration of the girls’ life at home with their mother after the death of their beloved youngest sister. The portrait of desolate yet strong Willa Jo is tenderly drawn, especially her anger at her separation from her mother; Couloumbis also skillfully expands the depiction of Aunt Patty, so that Patty’s more sympathetic position at the end results as much from our increased understanding of her as from her own internal changes. Though a sentimental haze sometimes creeps over the writing, there’s a quiet lyricism to this story of loss that will draw fans of Cynthia Rylant. (Reviewed from galleys) Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 1999, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 1999, Putnam, 224p, $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Louise Foerster (The Lorgnette - Heart of Texas Reviews (Vol. 12, No. 3))
Willie Jo and Little Sister climb onto the roof of Aunt Patty's house and will not come down. Both girls are engulfed in grief because of the death of their Baby Sister. Little Sister hasn't spoken a word since Baby's death. As they sit on the roof, Willie Jo goes over in her mind the events leading to her decision to get on the roof to be nearer to Baby. Uncle Hob climbs out on the roof and helps Willie Jo put her grief into perspective. This book will help students who have suffered a death in their family. Fiction. Grades 3-6. 1999, Putnam, 211p, $17.99. Ages 8 to 12.

Diane Tuccillo (VOYA, February 2000 (Vol. 22, No. 6))
Thirteen-year-old Willa Jo and eight-year-old Little Sister, who now refuses to talk, are mourning the sudden, stinging loss of their toddler sister, Baby. When Aunt Patty discovers that the girls' mother, previously deserted by their father, seems unable to cope with the death, she takes the girls to live temporarily with her and Uncle Hob. Willa Jo, contrary and critical of her aunt, regularly climbs out on the roof with Little Sister to "get near to Baby." Eventually Uncle Hob manages to break through to the girls and set them on the path to recovery. Couloumbis has a knack for perception and concise description, saving the book after a rather ho-hum beginning and allowing it to come to a relatively satisfying conclusion. The scene in which Baby dies, a result of accidentally drinking tainted water at a carnival, is especially powerful, poignant, and startling. The frustrating situation of an aunt trying to assist in the face of tragedy is reminiscent of Suzanne Freeman's The Cuckoo's Child (Greenwillow, 1996), while the suddenness and intensity of Baby's loss is similar to the sibling death in You Take the High Road by Mary Pershall (Dial, 1989/VOYA February 1990). Both of these are superior works, yet Getting Near to Baby evokes a mood and sensitivity that makes this author's first try for young people a worthwhile read. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 1999, Putnam's, 224p, $17.99. Ages 11 to 15.

Erin Hutchinson, Teen Reviewer (VOYA, February 2000 (Vol. 22, No. 6))
Getting Near to Baby is best described as limp. Although dealing with the death of a young child is an important subject, Couloumbis manages to make it horrifically boring. I found the characters difficult to relate to and unrealistic, and could not imagine anybody I know acting like them. The writing is fairly good but run-of-the-mill. I would not recommend this novel. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 1999, Putnam's, 224p, $17.99. Ages 11 to 15.


LanguageCall NumberLCCNDewey DecimalISBN/ISSN
English (eng)
99018191 [Fic]
039923389X : $17.99
0439238609 : $9.95
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