Friday, June 22, 2012

Guy Friday--The Classroom

Mellom, Robin. The Classroom.
19 June 2012, Disney Hyperion

Since Tyler worried about everything in elementary school obsessively, it's not a surprise that he is stressing about starting 7th grade. Matters are made worse when his friend Libby reinforces his belief that 8th graders are evil and out to get him, and encourages him to ask a girl to the upcoming fall dance. Told in a documentary style, this gives brief "interviews" with a variety of stock middle school character; the hulking 8th grader, the good looking popular boy, the girl obsessed with lip gloss, and a mysterious girl named Molly whom Trevor finds intriguing. Also present are a janitor who is zealous about his purview, a principal who is arbitrary and dithering, and various boring and quirky teachers.
Strengths: Boys will like this because it is a "notebook novel" with copious illustrations. It is fairly amusing.
Weaknesses: Like Mason Dixon, Trevor is overly paranoid. I fail to understand why people think middle school is so difficult. I polled my own personal children, and they were all happy to be in middle school and didn't have a ton of angst, and have seen absolutely no bullying.

There was as great article in the Columbus Dispatch, entitled "A Feel For Words" by Charlie Boss on Tuesday about boys and reading. It gives much of the same advice that I do-- get boys books that THEY like, find men to model reading, make it hands on and fun. Walter Dean Myers, as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature has said "Reading is not optional." Summer is a hard time for me because I can't make sure that my students are getting great books and reading. 

Myers, Walter Dean. All the Right Stuff. 
24 April 2012, Amistead.

Paul is very lucky to get one of four public service jobs available through his school in Baltimore. He will be working at a soup kitchen for senior citizens, which is run by the 84-year-old Elijah. Paul is struggling because his mostly absent father, who has had problems with substance abuse, has been shot in a store robbery gone wrong. Luckily, his single mother is hardworking and holds him to very high standards. Elijah teaches Paul not only about soup but about the "social contract" and how it should motivate everyone, even in their gritty urban neighborhood, to do what is right. As part of his job, Paul is also mentoring a student, who turns out to be 17-year-old Keisha. Keisha has spent years doing the right thing and seeing no result; a brief lapse in her drive led to her becoming pregnant, taking time off school, and putting her chances of getting a basketball scholarship to college at risk. She hopes that Paul will help her perfect her game. A lot of the book is spent discussing the social contract and how it will play out with individuals in the community, especially when Paul's friend Sly has an idea for a business to help people who have made poor choices in the past succeed.
Strengths: It is wonderful that the characters in the inner city setting are still depicted as hardworking and desirous of personal success. Paul especially is an engaging character, and Elijah is amusing. 
Weaknesses: This is a very slow and philosophical work. French philosophers are discussed. By name. I think that this would be an extremely difficult sell; readers who loved Slam, Game, and even The Mouse Rap are likely to be disappointed in the lack of action. 

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