Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Pleasant Surprises, Part One
Naked Bunyip Dancing
by Steven Herrick
illustrated by Beth Norling
Front Street Press
April 1, 2008 release
review copy compliments of the publisher
I never would have picked this book up on my own, but it was required reading, so I gave it a go. And I was pleasantly surprised!
Now, I should give a small disclaimer here -- I hardly ever read YA, and I haven't ever read any of Steven Herrick's other books. The sole soul on Goodreads who has read and reviewed this book didn't think it was as good as his others. So keep that in mind. And a note on the title -- a bunyip is a mythological Australian animal. I Googled bunyip after I read the book, but knowing what a bunyip is hasn't helped me understand the title. Maybe it has given me permission to be okay with the fact that I don't understand the title.
This is a novel in verse about an Australian 6th grade class with a new, liberal, pony-tailed, Dylan-singing teacher named Mr. Carey. The poems, in the voices of the students, understandably give us a very childlike view of what happens in their classroom. These poems are what you'd get if you overheard kids talking about their day at school -- they talk about the parts of the day that were out of the ordinary; they talk about each other; they talk about their weird and wonderful teacher; they talk a little bit about what's going on at home. If you read between the lines, you know that Mr. Carey has a method to his "madness," he knows his students very well and works hard to play to their strengths, and there's a lot more teaching going on than the students report.
On Friday afternoons, the class does co-curricular activities. "Mr. Carey says its stuff you do/on Friday afternoons/and you don't have to do tests/or be marked on it." The class is working on a concert, and the way Mr. Carey stays out of their way and lets them make if it as much as they can reminds me of The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements.
The class takes a field trip to the Sewerage Works. (Australian spelling.) When else has that happened in children's literature? The Qwikpick Adventure Society by Sam Riddleburger, of course!
The way you can infer the influence of the teacher through the students' voices and actions is reminiscent of Mr. Fab in Ralph Fletcher's Flying Solo.
The depth of the characters revealed in the fewest number of words is all Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.
All these book "cousins" on my bookshelf are what made me pleasantly surprised by this book. I haven't tried it on a real, live child reader. I don't know if the Australianisms will throw them off. Stay tuned for that. I am going to add Mr. Carey to our list of 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature! (He's number 111.)