Saturday, July 14, 2007

Kids' Views of The View from Saturday

First-year teacher makes a bad choice.

My 7th grade students actively hated Konigsburg’s, The View From Saturday (TVFS). From the cover, showing teacups and a Victorian architectural feature (“looks boring”), to the substance (the first major chapter focuses at length on the wedding of grandparents at a Florida retirement community), to the pedantic qualities (laboriously-constructed symbolism involving a heart-shaped-jigsaw, for instance, and vocabulary and history and natural science and trivia and morality lessons incorporated into the plot), to confusing use of repetition (some incidents are related from the point of view of more than one character).

In the manner of the recent Newbery controversy around the word “scrotum,” some of my students could not get over what seemed like a gratuitous reference to bra straps and (to them) titillating use of the word “puberty” on the second page.

After my class finished the book, I found comments inside the back cover where Konigsburg described using four separate short stories from her files to construct TVFS around a common theme. Although she wrote that readers have told her that, “fitting all the stories together is part of the adventure,” it was the disjointed origins of the stories that came across to me as I read the book.

One more thing. The main characters of TVFS form a team to compete in the middle school Academic Bowl. The principal of a competing school tells their teacher, “I told our coach that she could expect to be hung if she lets your sixth grade grunges beat us out.” The teacher replies, “I recommend that you start buying rope.” Apparently because of this conversation, the noose becomes the symbol for the team – their fans wear small nooses on their shirts, they hang a noose from a car antenna, and grandparents have custom-made t-shirts with nooses sold as a fundraiser. I did a double-take when the noose began to reappear as a symbol, and had to go back and comb through the book to figure out its origin and meaning. In what universe would thoughtful adults encourage the use of a noose as an inspiration for a school team of any kind?

The theme of building diverse communities through kindness to others is lovely, of course, and the one bright spot for the kids involved learning about sea turtles. For the most part, though, the book read like an out-of-touch adult’s idea of what a contemporary adolescent should care about, not what a young reader would actually want to read.

Newbery Committee makes a bad choice?


Sandy D. said...

The whole kid's choice vs. adult (especially Newbery judge) choice is interesting thing to consider. :-)

I liked comparing the Educators' Top 100 Children's Books to the Kids' top 100 Books - there's some overlap, but a lot more "trash" (some of which I love) on the kids' list. :-)

Mechaieh said...

I actually loved (and love) this book, so much that it prompted me to check out some of ELK's others. Perhaps the book can only connect with a small subset of kids/adults - those who can closely identify with one or more of the protagonists in terms of being smart-but-weird (and picked on because of that), fearing weirdness-by-association, etc. The parts where the protagonists have to deal with thoughtless comments/actions from adults and classmates rang very true to me - enough that I was in tears the first time I read this book - but I can see how others have probably read those same scenes and reacted with, "Oh, puh-leeze..."

Anonymous said...

Personally, I love this book and love E.L.K. The Mixed Up Files...has always been ones of my favorites and while not Newbery winning, the Outcasts of 19 Schylur Place is excellent.
That being said, if I put on my 7th grade teacher hat I agree that kids hate it but I thikn i've "discovered" why: from what I can tell, kids didlike books with multiple narrator vantage points: they don't like Tale of Desperaux or the Westing Game eitehr and if you ask why, they say it's too hard to follow. Anyone else have experience with this?

Anonymous said...

Reading this book now with well-read 6th & 7th graders. It's a struggle....they don't like it. Especially because, in the words of one student: "there is no conflict.....every book needs some kind of conflict". Not comfortable discussing the choice of the noose in class tomorrow. These kids are very compassionate and inclusive. A noose..really??!!