July 06, 2006


Boyds Will Be Boyds #3: Danger! Boys Dancing! By Sarah Weeks. Scholastic. $4.99.

The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of School. By Ken Derby. Scholastic. $4.99.

Spelling Machine. By Keith Faulkner. Illustrated by Gina Tee. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $7.99.

     When kids think about school at all during the summer, it is usually with either relief that it is over or dread that it will soon resume.  There ought to be a third alternative, and Scholastic may just have one: think about school as something to laugh about.

     This can be easier to do when you’re not there, especially if you are a recent or rising fifth-grader.  Both Sarah Weeks’ book and Ken Derby’s are fifth-grade adventures – and since both are fairly thin paperbacks, they’re just fine for a trip to the beach or for reading outdoors (or indoors, if the weather won’t cooperate).  Danger! Boys Dancing! gives the two fifth-grade Boyd boys – that’s Nat Boyd and his best friend, Boyd Fink – a taste of culture that they’d just as soon not have: a class assignment that involves dancing, and maybe even ballet.  Mrs. West tells the class, “Modern dance is about finding the emotion within and using the body to express it outwardly to the world,” but the Boyds mostly want to figure out how not to do any of it.  There are misunderstandings, of course, and when the performance comes around, it turns out that there really is danger in having Nat Boyd dance.  But everything remains lighthearted and good-humored.

     The same is true of The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of School, which was originally published two years ago as The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of 5th Grade.  Actually, there are more than 10 ways to ruin the school year here, and Tony Madison – also known as Tony Baloney – is responsible for pretty much all of them.  Tony is the class clown, and he has an obsession: The Late Show with David Letterman.  Tony’s antics are all designed to get him an appearance on the show.  How does a young boy from Kansas City make it to the big time in New York?  It doesn’t spoil the book to note that Tony succeeds in what he wants to do – because it is the way he succeeds, and the aftermath, that are really what the book is about.  There’s plenty of fun and fluff here for summer reading.

     For parents of younger kids, who may want to keep things light during the summer while also helping get a child ready for school, Spelling Machine is a neat book-and-plaything.  There is a very slight story: kids pick out animals pictured in the jungle or ocean, items shown in a house, and so on.  Here’s the trick: they then spell the things they see on a “spelling machine” bound into the back cover.  The “machine” looks like an oversize version of the dial on an old-fashioned rotary phone.  The key is to start spelling each word by placing the single red circle over the word “start.”  Kids then spell each word, letter by letter – cat, carrot, snake, door, banana, and so on.  Touching each letter and turning the dial so that letter appears over the word “start,” then touching the next letter and turning the dial again, eventually spells the word – and kids then simply lift a flap to check their spelling.  The process takes a bit of time to get used to, especially for younger children, but once kids are comfortable with the procedures, they will find Spelling Machine to be great fun.  Early spellers will have a really good time here.  Now if only there were a contraption to make things equally enjoyable in, say, fifth grade….

No comments:

Post a Comment