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?