- Gum by Nancy Willard
ISBN 978-0-7636-7774-9 $14.99
Reviewed from galleys R 4-7 yrs
James rustles his sleeping parents up at six in the morning to collect his week’s allowance—five quarters, one of which is a Canadian coin that his bleary-eyed mother assures him is lucky. “Lucky, ” as in now-please-go-away. After school he and pal Danny head to Mr. Wright’s store, where they take turns inserting their entire net worth into a gumball machine in the hope of getting the little silver racer that never wants to drop down the chute. Each quarter earns six gumballs, or at best a cheesy ring or, surprisingly, a little wheel. (“‘But this machine doesn’t give wheels, ’ says James. ‘It does now, ’ says Danny.”) James is resolved to save his last lucky quarter, but when he tests the Canadian coin against the slot size, it accidentally drops in and everything in the machine flies out—except the racer. After apologies and clean-up, James is now out his money, has no racer, and doesn’t even like gumballs. Mr. Wright is feeling generous, though, and after he takes off the machine’s top, the three-wheeled racer emerges, and Danny is pleased to share his prize wheel. It isn’t much of a story—for many it’s just a trip down their own boulevard of broken dreams—but Willard is an ace at drawing out the tension as each ensuing coin buys inevitable disappointment. Newman’s ultra-streamlined compositions are a hoot, particularly the early morning bedroom scene, and peppy hues (the color of artificial food additives . . . yum!) are ensconced between Bazooka-pink endpapers. It’s never too early to start playing the slots.