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Book Report: Have a peek at this American family

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The Dale family -- Mom, Dad, son Zak, daughter Chloe and Lars the dog -- come together for a typical American supper:

Zak stepped through the front door of his home at 6:03. Virtually on time.

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"Wash up, we're at the table," his mother called out.

Zak went into the bathroom and decided to use soap instead of just water, since his hands were dirty from dribbling a basketball.

His hand washing attempt turned the soap a dull gray, left streaks of mud in the white porcelain basin and imprinted several dirty handprints on the beige towels.

He wiped his hands on his jeans to get rid of the remaining water.

In the dining room his mother, father, and sister Chloe were already at the dinner table. Meatloaf, potatoes, green beans and milk stared at him.

"Not bad," Mr. Dale said, looking at his watch. "Your mother said I should call, but I said you'd be here."

"It's just a few minutes," Zak said.

Zak's parents had started a campaign to get him to be more responsible. So far it was a failure. He kept up with school, friends, reading, homework, eating and sleeping.

That was enough. The way he looked at it, there wasn't time for anyone else.

He was usually at home to eat dinner with his family. He felt pretty good about that.

Zak loaded his plate with large portions of everything.

"Your mother said you had a test today," Mr. Dale said.

"We had a test too," Chloe said quickly. "In English. We had 20 words and I spelled them all right."

"Great job, Honey," Mr. Dale said.

"Big whoop," said Zak.

"I don't want to hear that from you two tonight, am I clear," Mrs. Dale said.

"It wasn't me," Chloe said

"This time," Mr. Dale answered, glaring at Chloe.

"I have to be at school on Saturday morning at 9:00," Zak said, reaching for a bowl of mashed potatoes.

"Now what did you do?" his mother asked

"I didn't do anything. I met with Dr. Fletcher after class today. He wants me to clean up the science lab."

Thus spoke the Dale family in Dean Ammerman's "Anteater Boy," (Kabloona Press, $14), a charming adolescent novel about Zak Dale, a teenager and how he grew midst family, friends and enemies.

It's full of wonderful slices of life like the one quoted above, calling to mind Holden Caulfield and "Catcher in the Rye," minus the vulgarities that so bothered our aunties back in the 1950s.

Ammerman's fictional family hails from a St. Paul suburb.

Another writer who got his start in St. Paul is Pioneer Press architecture critic Larry Millett who struck a mother lode when he began writing novels in which Sherlock Holmes comes to Minnesota to solve crimes.

Recently, the University of Minnesota Press has reprinted some of his successful novels in paperback editions about the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Among them are "Sherlock Holmes and the Runestone Mystery" (originally published in 1999); "Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Alliance" (2001); and "The Disappearance of Sherlock Holmes" (2002). Originally published by Viking Penguin, all cost $14.95.

Millet's reissues are part of the Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage Book Series.

Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He can be reached at 715-426-9554.

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