This is my second book on this blog by E. L. Konigsburg, and the second Newbery Medal winner I’m reviewing by her. (Here’s the link for my review of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.)
This was the only book I could think of for the letter V, although when I went to the library to check it out, I also found The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket. But I had been wanting to read this book since teaching Mixed-Up Files to my fourth graders and learning about the double Newbery that Konigsburg earned with this book.
I loved how she interweaved all the stories together into a larger story without making it feel disconnected. All the stories, and all the lives they touched, feel like they were connected even before the story she set out to tell begins.
The story is about four bright and mature sixth graders who are the underdogs at the Academic Bowl (like Academic Decathlon, but for middle school). But their experiences (and the way they reflect on their experiences) make them wise beyond their years. They are called The Souls, which I thought was a little cheesy, and maybe the only wrong note in this whole book, but I thought of them as The Old Souls. They were able to find an acceptance of themselves that helped give them self-confidence and the ability to rise above typical sixth grade drama, like bullying and playing tricks on the teacher.
This book still has a couple jokes that will go over the heads of the intended readers like Mixed-Up Files, but I think she made the vocabulary a little easier this time around by explaining most of the more difficult words she uses in context.
There’s a great line on the second page:
To her four sixth graders puberty was something they could spell and define but had yet to experience.
Which is basically the tone of the book (though not the subject matter). It talks about everything so matter-of-factly, but it doesn’t lose a sense of warmth.
The book does contain some pre-adolescent themes that parents and teachers may want to watch out for with younger (less mature) readers, but this is a great book for bright and precocious readers of any age.
I’ll leave you with a funny conversation on diversity that comes up after the first vignette:
“In the interest of diversity,” she said, “I chose a brunette, a redhead, a blond, and a kid with hair as black as print on paper.”
Dr. Rohmer was not amused. He gave Mrs. Olinski a capsule lecture on what multiculturalism really means.
“Oh,” she said, “then we’re still safe, Dr. Rohmer. You can tell the taxpayers that the Epiphany Middle School team has one Jew, one half-Jew, a WASP, and an Indian.”
The teacher is told off again for calling the Indian boy an Indian by Dr. Rohmer, who informs her that they are called Native Americans now, not realizing that the boy is an actual Indian whose parents are from India. I love the tongue-in-cheek answers Mrs. Olinski gives Dr. Rohmer, who had just been to diversity training (but ended up being an example of why diversity training doesn’t work).
This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter V.