Friday, August 12, 2011

Guy Friday-- Troublemaker by Andrew Clements

Clements, Andrew. Troublemaker.
Clay has spent his entire school career being mildly annoying to teachers, causing just enough trouble to be sent to the office, but not enough for any of his actions to have serious consequences. He latest peccadillo involves a "free choice" art class and his portrait of the principal-- in the guise of a donkey. His older brother, Mitchell, was also trouble in school, but recently served time in jail after having a temper tantrum while in court for a minor offense. When he returns from jail, he insists that Clay behave himself, even going so far as to trying to get Clay to dress less like a thug. Clay does try to behave, even though he gets in trouble for starting a food fight on his first day of trying. He promises the principal he will do better, and he does, even though his friend Hank tries to lead him back into their evil ways. When someone spray paints a picture of a donkey on the principal's house on Halloween, the police come to Clay's house, strongly suspecting he has done it. Clay learns that reputation can be a powerful thing.

Strengths: Clements is a master of the deceptively simple novel. Students pick them up because the books are short and have the recognizable cartoon covers. The plot moves quickly, with interesting things happening. Lessons and morals are delivered in a way that doesn't slap students upside the head. Things are more gray than black and white, and readers are challenged to reexamine what they think.
Weaknesses: Not every book by Clements is a complete winner, but this one certainly is. I'm trying to think of a misstep of plot or character, but I thought that everything was very well done.

Ganeshram, Ramin. Stir it Up!
Anjali loves her neighborhood in Queens and enjoys working with her family at their roti shop, but her dream in life is to have her own show on the Food Network. She is constantly coming up with new and interesting Trinadadian inspired foods, and also takes cooking classes and would like to go to a high school with a cooking program. Her hard working parents, however, would like her to take the entrance exam to the Stuyvesant school, which is for acadmecially accelerated students. When her cooking teacher tells her about a Food Network kids' challenge, Anjali sends in a video and gets accepted. She is successful on air, and is even invited back to the finals, which are, of course, held on the same day as the exam. How will Anjali convince her parents that cooking, either now or in the future, is the only thing she wants to do?
Strengths: This was a fun book with lots of local flavor and a different ethnic viewpoint. Anjali is motivated, but her experiences seem more realistic than those I have read in similar books.I had fun looking up her neighborhood on Google Earth Street view, and could even see the Tudor style houses she mentioned! There are even recipes.
Weaknesses: Do that many teenagers really watch this Food Network? I'm still having trouble understanding the thrill of cooking shows. Dicing onions. Whee.


lwad said...

I really liked Troublemaker, too. I hadn't thought much about a kid trying to straighten his life out and having his former friends turn on him.

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