Saturday, May 30, 2009

Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle

I was fortunate to receive a copy of Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle And Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino from Roaring Brook Press. This is a sweet, funny story set in upstate New York just before the moon landing, focusing on a group of neighborhood children who have their own hierarchy and rules. Tammy, the narrator, can't stand the newcomer to the neighborhood, a scrawny boy she mockingly dubs "Muscle Man." He tells outrageous lies, the most recent of which is that Neil Armstrong is his uncle. The other children let his lies slide, which infuriates Tammy, who continues to pick on Muscle Man. It gradually dawned on me that Tammy is a bully, and the reason I didn't notice immediately is that Marino draws her so sympathetically. She's grieving for her best friend who moved without a forwarding address, and she resents Muscle Man as the newcomer. Muscle Man responds to Tammy's mean comments with kindness that only angers Tammy further. The impending moon landing, Woodstock, and the Vietnam War hover mostly in the background (with the exception of a touching subplot involving a neighbor whose son is serving). I found myself utterly swept up in the naive world of these children in the summer of 1969, and hoping that Tammy and Muscle Man would find solace in friendship with each other. This is the perfect book for teaching children how to understand another person's point of view and that everyone has his own problems, and I recommend it to adults and children alike.

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