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Reviewed by:
  • Oscar's American Dream by Barry Wittenstein
  • Elizabeth Bush

Wittenstein, Barry Oscar's American Dream; illus. by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell. Schwartz & Wade, 2020 [36p] Trade ed. ISBN 9780525707691 $17.99 E-book ed. ISBN 9780525707714 $10.99 Reviewed from digital galleys R 6-9 yrs

At the dawn of the twentieth century, Polish immigrant Oscar Nowicki opens a barber shop on a corner location in his new city home. Under his warm-hearted, generous management, the business prospers, and when he moves on to another job the property is scooped up by sisters who open a clothing store. They prosper as well, until the Great Depression hits and the now empty storefront becomes a soup kitchen. World War II arrives, and a military recruiting station moves in; when the war is over and returning soldiers head to the suburbs, there are new immigrants, new products to sell, new national challenges to face. The biggest change for the corner store, though, comes when its final resident folds at the end of the century, a sign goes up advertising luxury high-rise apartments on the site, and the wrecking ball arrives. Oscar's great-granddaughter is there to bid the store goodbye, and so is a woman she hasn't met before, who built her own business on lessons learned at Oscar's barber shop. Children will easily follow the mini lessons in American history as they flash by, with the Howdeshells' pen, pencil, and digital scenes supplying visual segues such as the aging barber pole that nobody would dismantle. Wittenstein's tale of neighborhood change is convincing in its specificity; readers will want to consult the closing note to confirm that this patterned tale is a fictional reimagining, and they'll appreciate the message: "[History] is alive. And if you stand on a corner and look carefully, you might even see it go marching by." [End Page 109]



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