Sharon Bell Mathis wrote The Hundred Penny Box which won a Newbery Honor Medal.
It’s just not fair. Tanya’s mother works hard to pay for her rent, but sometimes her children get sick and she has to stay at home and tend to them. Those landlords are awful to evict her just because she’s a few months behind on her rent!
But Lilly Etta isn’t prepared to let her best friend, Tanya leave her without putting up some kind of a fight. So she contacts the biggest newspaper in the city…
Will Tanya and her mother still be evicted? Won’t anyone try to help them?
I know that I was supposed to wowed by Lilly Etta’s determination, independence, and spunk. I know I was supposed to identify strongly with her horror at losing her best friend. I know I was supposed to be crying cheers of happiness when Lilly Etta inevitably saved the day. I know all of that. But it didn’t happen.
Honestly, to me, Sidewalk Story read like one big whine. “It’s not fair! It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” Over and over and OVER. Really? It’s not fair? What’s not fair about it? The woman’s three months behind on her rent. Is it really unfair of her landlords to evict her? Nope. It’s unfair of Lilly Etta to expect them not to evict her.
Lilly Etta’s constant complaint is that nobody’s doing anything to help Tanya’s family. And she’s right – nobody is doing anything to help them. But when it comes down to it, she doesn’t really do anything either. Her great big idea to save Tanya’s family is to call the newspaper and convince them of the injustice of the affair in the hopes that they can stir up a bit of public indignation. That is, she wants someone else to do the work. Not impressive.
I mean, if she had worked her fingers to the bone weeding someone’s garden to help Tanya pay the rent, or if she had gone door to door collecting donations, that would have shown spunk and intelligence. But ranting against the world and then calling up a deus ex machina to set things right takes precisely zero guts.
Of course, Lilly Etta disregards all parental/adult authority in the story. I think she disobeyed her mother a grand total of about 3,504 times in the 59 page story. (Yes, I exaggerate.) But in all seriousness – she conducts her entire campaign to save Tanya’s family against her mother’s wishes. It looks about like this. “Lilly Etta, don’t look out the window.” *Lilly Etta looks out the window* “Lilly Etta, don’t go outside.” *Lilly Etta goes outside* “Lilly Etta, don’t go over to Tanya’s house.” *Lilly Etta goes to Tanya’s house* “Lilly Etta, don’t bother Tanya’s family.” *Lilly Etta drags Tanya halfway across the neighborhood to make a fantastical phone call* Lilly Etta yells at her mother, Lilly Etta tells her mother “Phooey” whenever her mother tells her to do something, Lilly Etta yells at her little brother, then sweetens up to him and uses him as a screen to disobey her mother. In short, Lilly Etta had no character quality to recommend her to me and many for which I would have liked to spank her.
The book closes out with the typical “Little-kid-saves-the-day-through-amazing-spunkiness-which-was-also-disobedience-which-would-have-never-saved-the-day-in-real-life.” Yuck.
Oh, and Lilly Etta lies a couple of times, too. She doesn’t apologize for them or seem to think that they are unethical.
Conclusion. Not a favorite.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret