proseandkahn (proseandkahn) wrote,

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to (Not) Reading by Tommy Greenwald (mg)

   I am going to repeat the title here since good old Live Journal does not allow strike throughs in the subject heading.  Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald. Illustrated by J. P. Coovert. 220 p. Roaring Brook Press, July 5, 2011. 978-1-59643-691-6.
Charlie Joe Jackson has not read a book from cover-to-cover in years. He's very proud of his record and wants to maintain his streak. But he's in sixth grade now and the demands are increasing. That, plus, well, his best bud now refuses to do the reading for him. And he had such a perfect system going too! He would read the first and last chapters, then pay his friend in ice cream sandwiches to read the rest of the book and provide notes. 

We teachers and librarians all know some Charlies. Many, if not most of them are pretty bright kids. Many actually do do a fair amount of reading, just like Charlie does. it's just not reading that "counts." Charlie commiserates with the reader holding his very own guide! He acknowledges that he (or she) probably doing so against his (or her) will. He promises the reader that the chapters will be short. For the most part, they are. And, when they are not, Charlie apologizes. Interspersed among the 67 (mostly) short chapters are 25 Charlie Joe Tips. They are pretty good tips. Very practical. Two of my favorites are, #22: Always be wary of the plot twist and #23: It's possible to dislike reading and still be good at writing. 

In Tip #23, Charlie provides some hysterical examples of oxymorons: good book, happy reader, important author, etc. This tip hit particularly close to home for me as two of my four sons are not what I'd call readers. In fact, one of those two sons could have been Charlie Joe. He is very bright and an excellent listener. (Charlie Joe's Tip #4) He is a people person and a very good conversationalist. I read to him every night. He loved to be read to, but somehow never transitioned into loving to read on his own. He was an excellent student and he was an excellent writer. In fact, he aced the Verbal section of the SAT and got very close to acing the Writing section. From that point on, whenever I nagged him about reading, he would smile at me so sweetly and say, "800." He actually tested out of the English requirement at his college and boasted that he never had to read a book or write a paper that wasn't related to his major. (Charlie Joe's Tip #6)

What he did read religiously from second grade, was the newspaper, mostly, the sports section. (Charlie Joe's Tip #5) He could converse and debate the finer points of almost any sport with any adult.  

Back to the book and sorry for identifying so completely, that I forgot this was supposed to be an objective review. I have sympathy and great affection for the Charlie Joes. I was one. Seriously! Boys do not have the market cornered on reluctant reading. I won't share the dirty details of one book report from eighth grade.

I have said, on more than one occasion, "I would stock the shelves with cereal boxes if it would get the kids in here reading." I am also not a huge fan of assigned reading, summer or whole class, although there are some books that beg to be taught, that kids wouldn't pick up if it were not for a passionate, enthusiastic language arts teacher guiding the way.  I think this book would make a great read aloud to kick off the beginning of the school year. Teachers brave enough to read this one aloud will be forever known as The Coolest Teacher Ever. The kids will be rolling on the floor. They may even inadvertently share some of their own tips. Incidentally, the book is also filled with lots of great examples of figerative language and explanations of the writing process as well.

I can't wait to booktalk it because I won't have to say much about it. The cover will grab most of them and reading a couple of select chapters (remember, they're short) and some of Charlie Joe's tips should be enough to get the book checked out and passed around for most of the school year. I may even have to buy several copies.

For a book that celebrates loving not to read ( is that even grammatical?), this book is not cynical or mean-spirited - just slightly subversive. It's filled with all these truthful little moments that capture middle school and its daily dramas so well that I found myself laughing in recognition or nodding/ shaking my head at how well the author nailed it.

This is a fine, fun debut. I'm looking forward to reading more from Mr. Greenwald. I loved how he named Charlie Joe after his three sons, Charlie, Joe and Jack. I also enjoyed Charlie Joe's back-to-school tips on his website. 

(Again, sorry about the tiny font. Good old LJ.)
Tags: 100+ book challenge, 2011 favorite, debut challenge, humorous story, middle schools, schools, summer 2011

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