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THE CHILDREN'S BOOKSHELF

Fiction for Young Readers : OUR SIXTH-GRADE SUGAR BABIES By Eve Bunting (HarperCollins Children's Books: $12.95; 146 pp.; ages 9-11)

October 28, 1990|Eileen Heyes

Babies, boys and big ears. These are the things on Vicki's mind. Babies, because she and her sixth-grade classmates have been assigned to carry around five-pound bags of sugar for a week as a lesson in what parental responsibility might be like. Boys, because a cute seventh-grade one has moved in across the street. And big ears, because she suffers from the fear that hers are unacceptably large.

Vicki, narrator of "Our Sixth-Grade Sugar Babies," shares her insecurities and insights--such as they are--with the self-deprecating humor of a pre-adolescent aching to grow up. She and her overly freckled friend Ellie are gaga over the new boy, whom they call Thunk--for Terrific Hunk. In her quest to appear terribly cool (or at least not be a total dweeb) before Thunk, Vicki ditches her sugar baby. Her deception seems to lead to the disappearance of an elderly neighbor, and Vicki must find them both and decide just how far to go in owning up to her errors.

Vicki's family situation is pure '90s: She lives with her mother, a CPA who works at home. Her father, who fancied himself an artistic genius, ran off in search of his fortune when Vicki was a baby and only recently reappeared--remarried and now father to a 4-year-old, a half-sister Vicki very much wants to be close to.

With affection and sensitivity, author Eve Bunting captures the triumphs, the agonies and the self-absorbed melodrama of being an 11-year-old female. Vicki on her ears: "My Dumbo ears are my two biggest problems in life, requiring constant vigilance." On sixth-grade boys: He "hooked a finger around the rubber band that stretches across his top teeth, and pinged. . . . We do have the most disgusting boys in sixth grade. Not much wonder Ellie and I are attracted to more mature types." On an attractive seventh-grade girl: "Cynthia hurried along on the opposite side of the street, her hair bouncing nicely against the back of her neck. Ellie and I have tried to make our hair bounce like that, but there must be a trick to it and it's a trick we don't know."

Bunting's story can be excused for giving rather short shrift to characters other than Vicki. Sensible Mom, elegant Mrs. Oda, even adorable Thunk come off as two-dimensional--but perhaps that's as much as young Vicki can perceive. And the neat solution to Vicki's social-life woes, involving a boy's sudden change in behavior and Vicki's equally sudden and inexplicable change in attitude, comes too easily and abruptly to be credible.

But this light, funny and well-crafted tale will entertain the pre-pubescent set who are beginning to confront the very important problems of babies, boys and big ears.

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