Cover image for Belle Teal
Belle Teal
Publication Information:
Scholastic Press, c2001.
Physical Description:
214 p.
Reading Level:
870 L Lexile


Material Type
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Ten-year-old Belle Teal Harper lives with her mother and grandmother in a small, rural town in the early 1960s. Although Belle feels rich with love and loyalty to her family and friends, unexpected challenges await at the start of the new school year. Her Gran's memory is slipping, her mother works long hours to support the family, and her friend, Little Boss, is being abused by his father.

Author Notes

Ann Mathews Martin was born on August 12, 1955 in Princeton, New Jersey. She received a degree in elementary education and psychology from Smith College. She worked as a teacher, was an editor of children's books for both Bantam and Scholastic, and then became a full-time writer.

She is the author of several series including the Baby-sitters Club series, Baby-Sitters Little Sister series, California Diaries series, and Main Street series. Her other works include Ten Kids No Pets, Here Today, On Christmas Eve, and Rain Reign.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this honest and moving novel, Martin (the Baby-Sitters Club series; P.S. Longer Letter Later) takes readers back to the era of the civil rights movement in the rural South to share the experiences of a poor white girl when her school becomes integrated. The author evokes the aura of hatred and fear permeating the small community of Coker Creek as skillfully as Belle Teal's empathy for her African-American classmate, Darryl. Martin sensitively captures the narrator's reactions to the events around her, such as when Belle Teal sees racist picketers outside of her school: "I feel my face grow warm, like I'm embarrassed, even though I haven't done anything." Besides feeling anger towards her insensitive classmates and their bigoted parents, the fifth-grade narrator resents a new rich girl named Vanessa (whom she dubs "HRH" for Her Royal Highness), who makes fun of the way she dresses. Yet the heroine learns some important lessons about not judging people by their appearances; she later learns a tragic secret that sheds some light on Vanessa. As well as capturing the climate of the early '60s, the author adroitly tackles timeless issues. Preteens will relate to Belle Teal, whose observations and realizations provide an eye-opening introduction to social and personal injustice. Ages 10-14. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

(Intermediate) With the same sincere and empathetic handling of grade-school life that made her Baby-sitters Club books so popular, Martin here deftly draws a more complicated portrait of a racially integrating fifth-grade class in a rural school during the early 1960s. Ebullient-okay, bossy-Belle Teal is more curious than anything else when it comes to Darryl, one of the few black children newly attending Coker Creek Elementary. The other white kids tend to follow their parents' lead, which in the case of Belle Teal's troubled friend Little Boss means trouble, after his father spits on Darryl: ""Big Boss can be as mean as he wants, but if Little Boss is going to follow in his daddy's footsteps, then he is going to have to deal with me."" Enlisting Darryl and her best friend Clarice in a Halloween trick to make the other students learn the folly of prejudice, Belle Teal herself learns a few subtler lessons about human nature. The writing is graceful and easy, with Belle Teal's narration distinctly and convincingly evoked. A parallel plot involving Belle Teal's efforts to care for and understand her increasingly confused grandmother makes a satisfying homeplace for the story; we can see in the girl's ""family of women"" just where Belle Teal got her backbone. r.s. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

Gr. 4-6. Belle Teal's fifth-grade year is off to an eventful start. She finally has Miss Casey, whom she is sure she will love. However, there is controversy over black students attending her school for the first time. This coming-of-age-story, set in the early sixties, features a spunky, thoughtful girl whose family doesn't have much. Mama works several jobs to pay the bills. Gran cooks and tends the garden, but her memory is fading quickly. At school, Belle Teal contends with a new girl who makes fun of her and some boys whose mean behavior extends to the new black student in her class. Belle Teal befriends him, even as other students keep their distance. By the story's finish, Belle Teal has made some surprising discoveries about her classmates and has learned that she has a well of strength that will help her face her family's own uncertain future The only false note is Belle Teal's voice, too wise for her years. But the story's portrayal of integration in a small school is low key yet quite effective. --Denise Wilms

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-6-Belle Teal begins fifth grade in the early `60s in the rural South with only one cloud on the horizon, her beloved grandmother's increasing forgetfulness. However, school turns out to be much more complicated this year as a result of the desegregation that brings in three African-American children, one of them to Belle's classroom. Students and parents are divided on this issue, and the conflicts are expressed in various hurtful and potentially dangerous ways. Other strands in the plot involve the Christmas pageant, a snooty new girl, and a classmate who is being physically abused by his father. Martin smoothly juggles these elements, moving the story along gracefully with a first-person, present-tense narration. The ending emphasizes the strength Belle finds with the women of her family and shows a simple acceptance of life's difficulties, an approach that shows respect for young readers. Some of the characters, including Belle herself, occasionally seem a bit too good to be true, and many kids may admire the protagonist rather than really relate to her. However, this doesn't significantly get in the way of the book's considerable child appeal and heart. Overall, while not especially profound or literary, this is a solid piece of work with an absorbing plot.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

A young white girl witnesses the integration of her public school in the early 1960s South. Belle Teal and her best friend Clarice have been looking forward to the fifth grade for years, ever since the lovely and kind Miss Casey began teaching it. This year is remarkable not only for Miss Casey, however, but for the arrival of Darryl and two other African-American students, the first the school has ever seen. Belle Teal, a spunky, generous girl who copes at home with a loving but feckless mother and a beloved but increasingly senile grandmother, finds herself caught in the middle of the integration conflict, as she must balance her old friendship with the bigoted Little Boss against her new friendship with Darryl. Belle Teal's first-person voice is pleasing and genuine, and period details are well rendered (Clarice's family's TV helps to locate the text in time, drawing a connection over 40 years from Belle Teal to 21st-century child readers). And although there is a lot going on here, what with Little Boss's family tensions, the snooty newcomer Vanessa (whom Belle Teal refers to as "HRH"), and Belle Teal's anxiety over the changes in her grandmother's capabilities in addition to the central integration plot, Martin (The Doll People, 2000, etc.) does a creditable job of keeping all the narrative balls in the air. While readers might question the conveniently enlightened racial attitudes of both Belle Teal's and Clarice's families and the ease with which the girls begin a friendship with the besieged Darryl, this good-hearted and well-paced story moves them past these concerns into a genuinely moving tale about the necessity to reach out to others, even when it is difficult. (Fiction. 8-12)