Friday, September 25, 2009


Biblio Bits Schooled by Gordon Korman, Hyperion, 2007 (ISBN 9780786856923)

Reading Level/Interest Age 740 lexile/ages 12-14

Genre Realistic fiction

Format Audio book

Plot Summary
Capricorn "Cap" Anderson has been raised and homeschooled by his grandmother, Rain, on a now-defunct hippie commune. Up until now, he has worked the farm with her, made his own clothes, and been out of contact with any kids his own age. He knows all of the anthems of the 1960s, can play the guitar, and knows how to tie-dye, but he has never seen TV, handled money, or used the phone. When Rain breaks her hip, Cap goes to live with a social services worker and attends Claverage Middle School as an 8th grader. The culture shock is huge, and more-so because Cap is elected 8th grade president, a rigged election designed to get the biggest dork in school in public office. Cap finds himself in charge of the 8th grade Halloween dance, making many naive and innocent mistakes along the way, while also navigating the social conventions of middle school. The story is told through many voices and perspectives, not just Cap's, which adds a dimension of complexity as the relationships unfold and develop between characters.

Critical Evaluation
The reading on audio is narrated by a full cast that brings to life the voices of Cap, Naomi, Mr. Casigi (the principal), Mrs. Donnelly (his caseworker) and others. Each chapter begins with a statement of who will be narrating, so as to minimize a reader's (or listener's) confusion. The story conveys the somewhat funny, naive foibles of Cap's first taste of institutional education and the complex social realities of middle school, but leaves a reader with a feeling of growing discomfort about the unkindness of Cap's peers as they set him up to fail. You're sort of laughing along, and then realizing that a line has been crossed into cruelty. The relationships are believable, particularly the snappy scorn of Sophie, Mrs. Donnelly's 16 year-old daughter, and the dialogue and social dynamics equally so. Cap makes a believable and subtle transformation, after experiencing Claverage, when he returns to the commune; the world he knew looks different now, after gaining a broader perspective, friends, and new experiences. Less believable was the shift that his grandmother made, when she decided to ground herself in the 21st century for the sake of Cap's future.

Reader's Annotation
That long-haired, tie-dye-wearing hippie didn't walk out of a time warp into the halls of Claverage middle school, but he might as well have! Cap has been homeschooled on a now-defunct commune and has a lot to learn from the mainstream.

Author Information
Gordon Korman, a Canadian American, was born in Montreal, grew up in Ontario, and got his BA in Fine Arts from NYU in 1985. He currently resides on Long Island with his wife and three children. Korman has written extensively for kids and young adults, and his books have sold over 7 million copies. (Information for this section was found at the author's official site.)

Challenge issues
Stereotyping of hippies is about the only one I can come up with here.

Booktalking Ideas
The perfect booktalking buddy for Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl! This book would be right at home in a booktalk on those characters that break out of the mold, forge their own paths, and fly in the face of convention. You could even throw in some titles about famous people who challenged popular thinking, perhaps a biography of Amelia Bloomer, DaVinci, or the Wright brothers.

Curriculum Ties
This could actually make an interesting link to a unit that touches on the fundamentals of anthropology, since Cap is a bit like a visitor from a foreign land. He's totally out of touch with mainstream culture and social customs and yet, like Stargirl, begins to influence those around him because of the unique perspective he has. It would be a great compare/contrast discussion to Stargirl.

Why this book?
Funny and engaging through its multiple perspectives, this book portrays the social stratification of middle school in a realistic way. But through Cap's character, it fundamentally calls into question a lot of the norms of our society. An excellent choice for readers who are in the mood to experience a different perspective.


Rockport Public Library owns?

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