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SONIA BEGONIA by Joanne Rocklin; illustrations by Julie Downing (Macmillan: $11.95; 107 pp.; ages 7-10).

July 27, 1986|KRISTIANA GREGORY

Young readers will immediately warm up to the heroine in this light-hearted first novel by Angeleno Joanne Rocklin. Sonia Begley is just the 11-year-old you'd love to have next door, with her whiz-bang ideas for helping the neighborhood and for her knack for baby-sitting.

Sonia yearns to have the same business savvy as her parents, who own Begonia Ladies' Lingerie, and as her brother Tony, who plans to join the company after graduating from college. She's feeling rather left out until their house is burglarized, and she flashes on the greatest idea of her life: Sonia's Safety Sentinel Service! Bingo. S.S.S.S. will be the personalized house-watching service for vacationers. It's a bold plan, considering the setting is a robbery-infested area of Los Angeles and, as her dad warns, it's too risky "running in and out of strange houses by herself."

But details are smoothed, and Sonia soon gets down to business, watering plants and lawns, turning on lights and taking in clients' mail. To her amazement, her new career doesn't bloom the way she'd imagined, in fact, everything seems to be going wrong. After a few misadventures, Sonia finally learns she doesn't need to make a big splash just to be a success or to be loved by her family.

The story is easy to read, the cast friendly. Sonia's favorite neighbor, old Mrs. Fineberg, drives a van and wears karate clothes, practicing conversational French on everyone in case she ever goes to Europe. Snooky Adams is the unruly kindergartner Sonia baby-sits, and Jason is the new kid on the block who helps foil a robbery. Most of all, there's Sonia Begonia, armed with imagination and spunk and out to improve the world--never mind the obstacles. Her disheveled concern is humorously illustrated by Julie Downing's eight pencil drawings.

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