THE PRETTY PENNIES are at it again. Elizabeth Lorraine Lambert, who discovered her leadership potential in Bette Greene's Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe , puts her talents to the test in a sequel, Get on out of Here, Philip Hall .
Beth, who has always been short on patience and long on ideas, is expecting to win the Abner Brady Leadership Award at the Old Rugged Cross Church. When she doesn't -- the prize goes to none other than Philip Hall of the rival Tiger Hunters -- Beth retaliates with the full force of the Pretty Pennies Girls Club of Pocahontas, Arkansas. She stages a town celebration complete with a parade (two bands), live entertainment, and a relay race she's determined the Pretty Pennies will win.
Beth may be older and even more fearless in her second adventure, but she's not much wiser. Of course, not many of us are wise in the wake of humiliating defeat, and defeat is what Beth meets at every corner until she finally rises again as an Irritated Oyster, an accomplishment that attests to her Phoenix-like capabilities.
As with Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe , Bette Greene has captured rural living, the steadfast affection of a family, and the ups and downs of friendships that occasionally demand more than we are willing to give. She has portrayed with admirable subtlety the underlying trust between two kids who know without saying so that they share a special relationship that can withstand all the tests Beth Lambert's spunky disposition can devise. Philip Hall may get the titles, but the books belong to Beth herself, and one wonders if there is not yet another story to come about Beth and Philip Hall, which will carry their friendship into young adulthood.
The trouble with sequels is that they come burdened with expectations on the part of the reader. Given a character we know and love, our own imaginations make demands, resisting the writer's creation in order to hold close our own. On the other hand, the blessing of a sequel is that there are certain givens -- we already know Beth, her family, and her town, although Greene provides the right touches of background for readers who may have missed Philip Hall Likes Me . We have seen Beth win, and now Greene adds the ingredient that becomes the core of Beth's new conflict -- pride. She expects to win the Abner Brady Leadership Award, but when she doesn't, the pride that made her anticipate glory also helps her land on her feet. "'Cause when a person fails in full view of everybody important to her, then something has got to be done. Something spectacular to make up for the shame."
What the reader probably doesn't anticipate is Beth's second, even more spectacular failure and the subsequent despair that leads her to escape to her grandmother in another town. Her journey back to self-confidence is a valid one for young readers who are just beginning to experience baffling defeats in school elections, clubs and athletic competitions.
Beth Lambert is a black child. Charles Lilly's wonderful illustrations for both Philip Hall books make that clear. But the cultural setting Greene unfolds with such skill is simply rural, depicting the values and experiences of people who find pleasure in the orderliness of their lives. It seems that what the people of Pocahontas, Arkansas, have always been needing is Beth Lambert with one of her schemes turned into action -- a quick and happy stirring of the waters. Bette Greene has supplied such a moment.
Eleanora E. Tate's first novel, Just an Overnight Guest , is more obviously about a black family. In fact, it deals directly with color. The story involves a family with two young daughters, one of whom is 9-year-old Margie. Margie tells the story of how Ethel Hardisn, age 4 and the product of a racially mixed union, came to live with them.
Ethel is an abused child, although Margie is slow to realize it. Her main concern is with Ethel's infringement on their lives and with her own embarrassment, inconvenience and jealousy. Ethel is truly a terror, destructive, dirty and incontinent. Margie's mother, however, is determined to bring Ethel under control with love, patience and a good deal of help from Margie.
Besides relating her problems with Ethel, Margie paints a charming picture of a small Missouri town with just enough characters to entertain without being cute. Margie understands them, too. Of one Miz Wilkins, she notes, "She was just trying to pick some gossip. People were always picking gossip from children, asking things they knew not to ask folks their own age." Margie's parents are beautifully drawn portraits, especially the idealized father, a long-distance mover who is away most of the time but whose presence is always felt. The arguments between people are the kind of exchange that clear the air a little but are not necessarily resolved by someone spouting an undeniable truth that instantly defeats the opponent. This mother and father argue and then wait to see who comes around first, just like real people do.
All this Margie sees and records. What she can't understand is her own dilemma and resentment. She is convinced her place in the family is being threatened by this obnoxious kid her mother seems determined to care for. "Overnight" was had enough for Margie, but permanent is terrible. We never see her total acceptance of Ethel, but there is a beginning. She says, "I cried about everything I could think of, but mostly I cried because I was going to have to share him [her father] with somebody else."
Eleanora Tate's language is true, and she has an easy, natural style. Her dialogue is especially strong, not only among the main characters but also with the bit players like Miz Orange who is testifying in church: "Lord knows I'm a widow and I'm deprived, but I'm not complaining, because my way is easier now. . . . The Lord took ten pounds off me last week."
With Get on out of Here, Philip Hall , Bette Greene is continuing a tradition of fine writing begun with Summer of My German Soldier . Eleanora Tate is just beginning to shine.