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Left, the book cover. Right, Willie defends his alkansiya when Stan calls it a "loserís bank."
Willie doesnít quite win
By Almira Astudillo Gilles
Illustrated by Carl Angel
Lee and Low Books, 2001
Hardcover, 28 pages, $16.00
By Josephine Bridges
When Willie strikes out in the last inning of a Little League game, his father tries to distract him with a story of how he and his friends played baseball "with bamboo bats and a rolled-up sock." Willie doesnít want to hear his fatherís stories of the Philippines. When the boy discovers a note from his teacher in his backpack and remembers that he has to take a bank to school the next day, a bad day gets even worse. But Willieís father has an unusual bank for his son, and this bank, called an alkansiya, is the best part of Willie Wins.
Willieís alkansiya is made from a coconut shell. Thereís a slot for money and a tiny hole for ants. "They crawl in, and after theyíve eaten all the coconut meat they crawl out," Willieís father explains. The alkansiya is "sneak-proof" because it has to be cracked to get the money out. Best of all, thereís something special inside it already.
Willie has mixed feelings about his bank, but he defends it when Stan, who seems to live to harass Willie, says itís "just a dusty shell." And he works hard all month, putting his play money rewards into the alkansiya. At the end of the month, the student with the most play money wins tickets to the circus. Itís no surprise that Willie wins, but the treasure is a surprise that impresses even Stan, and boosts Willieís confidence.
Willie Wins isnít a bad book, but Willie is a prickly character, hard to relate to, and that puts this book at a distance from its readers. The illustrations are unusual in that they donít portray attractive characters, and in some unsettling examples make the protagonist look downright unpleasant. Most unfortunate, the audience is narrowed by the lack of any significant female characters. But boys aged four and up, especially those with an interest in baseball or the Philippines, may find something here that this reviewer couldnít find. I hope so.