Sunday, November 29, 2009

Homework Machine

Biblio Bits The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman, Simon and Schuster, 2006 (ISBN 0689876785)

Reading Level/Interest Age 690 lexile/Ages 10+

Genre Realistic Fiction, Humor

Plot Summary
A homework machine seems too good to be true, but the other members of the D Squad believe it when they see it. The D Squad is a small group of four fifth graders, who all have last names beginning in "D," put together by their teacher, Miss Rasmussen: lackluster Kelsey, smart-aleck Snikwad, goody-goody Judy, and Brenton, the class brain who invented the Homework Machine. Brenton agrees to let his group-mates use his invention but, oddly enough, he doesn't want anything in return for the favor. That just proves how eccentric Brenton is; he invented the Homework Machine because he didn't like the busy-work that his teacher was giving out, he'd much prefer to pursue his own interests and studies. The four students start going to Brenton's house after school to use the Machine and begin to get to know each other a little better. And they quickly get hooked by the ease of using the Machine and don't want to "go back." But someone is trying to find out more about what they're doing each day after school. Is it the CIA? The FBI? The secret has leaked: what is the D Squad going to do?

Critical Evaluation
This book might appeal to reluctant readers, since the narration is in short segments, by the various players in this drama. It's a fantasy that many of us have dreamed of: the ease of life without the time-drain of homework. Gutman's writing style is straight-forward and conversational, as though the narrators are speaking directly to the reader. The plot moves quickly with a bit of mystery thrown in, as the D Squad tries to discover who has leaked the story of the Homework Machine. Each character responds differently to this new development and pretty soon the conclusion winds up, with a couple of plot twists that are quite unexpected. The primary characters slowly develop a friendship through this drama, even though they have some prejudices about each other (slacker, goody-goody, trouble-maker, geek).

Reader's Annotation
A machine to do your homework for you? Sounds like every kid's dream, right? More free time to do the things you want, great grades, and it's all so easy. Except you're living a lie.

Author Information
Dan Gutman was born in 1955 in New York City and grew up in New Jersey. He obtained his Bachelor's Degree from Rutgers University, in psychology. He turned his attention to writing after a couple of years in graduate school, and began writing humorous essays in 1980. Gutman has 86 published works to date including fiction and nonfiction, for adults and children. HE currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and two children. (Information for this author biography is from his official site.)

Challenge issues
Some people don't like the word "sucks" and that's in here. There are devious kids here, bucking the time-cherished tradition of homework, and that's pretty scary too.

Booktalking Ideas
Someone mentioned that this book might be a good one to recommend to fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (Kinney, 2007). Though this one is lacking the copious illustrations, I think that it's a good read-alike for the school setting, friends/enemies, and the humorous aspects. I think a booktalk called "If you like the Wimpy Kid books, try these next..." could be a good one. Other books might include Sideways Stories from Wayside School (Sachar, 1985), Julia Gillian (and the Quest for Joy) (McGhee, 2009), The Boys Start the War (Naylor, 1993), and Frindle (Clements, 1996).

Curriculum Ties
Certainly an obvious curricular connection would be related to instruction and guidelines on academic honesty. When did Miss Rasmussen begin to suspect that there was something up? How do people get caught cheating? Can teachers "tell" if you've plagiarized? Why do people cheat? Are these the same reasons (or are there different ones) that the D Squad started using the Homework Machine? Also, students might draft their own Ten Commandments of Homework, like Miss Rasmussen's.

Why this book?
Aren't you just a little intrigued by the title? I tried listening to it on audio but found the full-cast narration to be confusing since there are so many (and frequent) switches in point of view. It seemed like a pretty great selection for this list, so I went back to it in book form.

The Return of the Homework Machine (2009), which I see from Gutman's site addresses the one remaining loose end of the first book: What the heck was that red blinking light on Brenton's computer, that never went off even when the power was killed?

Maine Student Book Award, Second Place, 2007-2008; Booklist Editors' Choice, Books for Youth, Middle Readers Category, 2006.

Rockport Public Library owns?


max said...

It's so important to draw attention to reading, and attract reluctant readers to it,especially boys. In fact, I've recently completed a feature magazine article on this subject that came out in October, "Help for Struggling, Reluctant Readers."

I grew up as a reluctant reader, in spite of the fact that my father published over 70 books. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for tween boys, that avid boy readers and girls enjoy just as much.

My blog, Books for Boys is dedicated to drawing attention to the importance of reading.

Keep up your good work.

Max Elliot Anderson

Marichelle Rocha said...

Nice post! I came across your blog and was interested in hearing various views about the "banning" of Dan Gutman's books. Here's the link to his FaceBook discussion topic:

Marichelle Rocha