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Amber on the Mountain

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About the Author

Tony Johnston grew up in San Marino California. In her "spare time," Johnston has worked at a children's book store, taught a course on picture book writing at UCLA, and studied poetry writing for children with Myra Cohn Livingston. Although she has published nearly seventy-five books, Johnston never stops working. At this moment she is juggling about ten different story ideas. She is grateful for the many ideas that come to her, for the chance to work toward what has become her life goal--to be a good storyteller.


Gr 1-3-A story about learning to read and write that doesn't quite work. Amber lives a solitary life high in the mountains. Then one day a man comes with a crew to build a road, bringing along his wife and daughter, Anna. She teaches Amber to read before the road is completed; Amber learns to write on her own so she can keep in touch after Anna's family leaves. The process of mastering these skills, while shown to be a slow one, seems to be one in which, as Anna says, you just, ``Set your whole self to the task.'' Johnston, who has used poetic language to great effect in previous books, seems to be straining to be descriptive here. One brief page of text, for example, is crammed with figurative language, some of which is cliched. She uses expressions that seem to evoke an Appalachian setting, a place where ``folks'' might ``roll clean off'' of a road; where people say ``hey'' to one another. Duncan's large, lush oil paintings unfortunately confuse the issues of time and place. While the frontispiece painting and the details of housing have an Appalachian look, the mountains have the sharp ridges of the Rockies. (The cover painting of the girls on a grassy hillside in front of imposing peaks even evokes strong images of Heidi.) While the setting includes no modern touches, the two children's wardrobes seem to be directly out of the current L.L. Bean catalog. Eve Bunting's The Wednesday Surprise (Clarion, 1989) and Florence Heide's The Day of Ahmed's Secret (Lothrop, 1990) do a better job of telling the literacy story.-Barbara Chatton, College of Education, University of Wyoming, Laramie

The theme of Johnston's heartwarming story is apparent--``You can do almost anything you fix your mind on''--but her deceptively simple telling boasts believable characters and deft construction. There's never been a school in Amber's mountain community, and not until the appearance of Anna, whose father is helping to build a mountain road, does Amber find someone who can teach her to read. Johnston ( Yonder ; Grandpa's Song ) knits this story together with recurring themes, lyrical images, and picturesque and convincing dialogue. The girls help Granny Cotton with her quilting, ``poking little silver needles in and out, in and out'' and later, Amber is so eager to read that ``she hurries and tangles the words like quilting thread.'' When Anna gets a stubborn look in her eyes, Amber tells her she looks like a mule. ``When old Rockhead looks balkity,'' she says, ``he's up to something sure.'' By book's end, Anna has moved on, but Amber teaches herself to write--with no small measure of persistence. ``If I can read 'em, I can copy 'em,'' she says, and in due time she sends her first letter to Anna. Newcomer Duncan's splendid oil paintings detail the beauty of mountain folk, misty clouds and glorious meadows dotted with wildflowers. Ages 4-8. (June)

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