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Becoming Naomi Leon

Review

Becoming Naomi Leon

Although Naomi and her little brother Owen have a great life living with their Gram, there are times when she really misses her mother. Naomi has some vague memories and Owen can't remember her at all. They live in a small trailer and enjoy life under Gram's loving care. The bliss of this simple life is thrown into turmoil when Skyla, their mother, shows up one day and announces that she wants to get to know her children.

It doesn't take anyone long to realize that Skyla has other motives. She introduces a boyfriend, Clive, who has his own daughter. She also shows herself to be moody and bossy. But perhaps the most telling behavior is her attitude toward Owen. Because Owen has been physically handicapped since birth, Skyla has no use for the bright little boy. Skyla has come with no other reason than to find a baby-sitter for her boyfriend's child, and very soon Gram and the children are in danger of being separated.

As these things are going on, there is also the search for the father, which leads them to the city of Oaxaca where soap-carving competitions are held each year and where their natural father Santiago, a renowned artist himself, is said to live. This is where they eventually meet up and where Naomi's carving skills are richly rewarded.

One of the fun elements in this fine book is the way each chapter is headed with titles such as "A Rabble of Yesterdays," "A Passel of Todays" and "A Drey of Squirrels." Somehow these headings fit beautifully into the action of the story. Along with this, Naomi is a keeper of very creative lists --- some are word lists and some are for other subjects she cares about:

"I had all kinds of lists in my notebook, the shortest being 'Things I Am Good At' which consisted of 1) Soap carving, 2) Worrying, and 3) Making lists."

Pam Munoz Ryan has written a moving story with characters ranging from Gram's wonderful neighbors (Fabiola and Bernardo) to Mr. Marble, the school librarian (librarians everywhere will be thrilled with this portrayal). Naomi's own words describe him:

"Mr. Marble, the librarian and the absolute best person at Buena Vista Elementary, gave me the book yesterday when I walked into the library at lunchtime…He said, 'Naomi Outlaw (he always calls me both names), today is your lucky day. I have a treasure for you and I've already checked it out on your card. I give this to you with a flourish.' Then he scooped the book into his palms, knelt down on one knee, and held it out to me as if it was a box of jewels. (I added flourish to my 'splendid Words' list.)"

BECOMING NAOMI LEON is a treasure that will be enjoyed by all.

Reviewed by Sally M. Tibbetts on September 1, 2004

Becoming Naomi Leon
by Pam Munoz Ryan

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2004
  • Hardcover: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 0439269695
  • ISBN-13: 9780439269698