The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: As the school year winds down, Derek Fallon finds a newspaper clipping in the attic about a girl who drowned 12 years ago off of Martha’s Vineyard. Derek is curious to find out more about the girl but is stonewalled by his parents. On top of that, because of his poor grades and general misbehavior, his parents decide to send him to Learning Camp over the summer. Derek struggles through the daily lessons and math games at the camp and in his spare time investigates the mystery of the drowned girl. When he convinces his parents to take a vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, Derek hopes that he will be able to get to the bottom of the mystery.
My Take: I had difficulty enjoying the character of Derek Fallon. In several instances throughout the book, he engages in behavior that is hurtful to others, but he never seems to have a full reckoning with it. The author’s intent was probably for comic effect directed at younger readers, but I couldn’t get past that Derek has a side to him that was cruel and selfish. The author showed little interest in exploring this side of Derek (which, honestly, would probably have made a more interesting read!) or the consequences of his actions. His immature behavior subsides for several chapters near the end when he is finding out the truth behind the mystery. Rather than it being a convincing character change, however, I found these chapters to be distinctly out of place with the rest of the book and I never believed Derek’s transformation to be earned. I would be hesitant to recommend this book to young readers unless they enjoyed sarcasm and poor choices on the part of the main character.
One Interesting Note About The Author: The My Life book series is illustrated by her son Jake.
Every year around this time, Children’s Librarians in my library system venture out into the local elementary schools to promote the public library summer reading club. I just finished my visits last week and wanted to put forth my thoughts on how they went.
I visited three schools in one week. In one school I was on the morning announcements and for the other two schools I was able to speak to each grade at a time for 25 minutes each, either in the school library or the auditorium.
As you might think, being on the morning announcements was the easiest. Because the theme for this year’s Summer Reading Club is superheroes, I came dressed in plain clothes, but then quickly put on a superhero mask and pulled open my shirt to reveal a giant, blazing “B.” Yes, I was Book Man! I stated that Book Man’s greatest arch enemy was boredom and that the best weapon against it was to join the library’s Summer Reading Club. I then proceeded to rattle off the sheer awesomeness of the club.
The other two school visits were more challenging. Because I knew that I had 25 minutes with each grade (gulp!), I prepared a good deal of material ahead of time. I wrote down some book talks and even created a short reader’s theater. When I was actually in the auditorium with the first group, however, I abandoned almost all of this material. Because it was the last week of school, the kids were rambunctious and book talks were simply not going to cut it. I ended up telling them a story from my own past about how I grew to love reading and then performed the Jack and the Beanstalk string story–because Jack was one of the world’s first superheroes!– done by storyteller David Novak (giving David credit for it of course!). Luckily I had memorized this story in the past, so it was not a big deal for me to do it. I finished my presentation by having 4 volunteers come to the front–I always try to make my school visits interactive if possible–and quizzing the audience on the details of the Summer Reading Club. If they got the answer right, I placed a funny article of clothing on one of the volunteers. It could be a clown wig, pirate hat, silly glasses, etc. The kids loved seeing their friends looking silly.
I learned from these school visits that you really need to bring the big guns. Booktalks won’t cut it in front of large audiences in the last week of school. I’m proud that I was able to make the school visits successful even with these last minute changes in my presentation. Let the summer reading madness begin!