The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 23, 2008

Book review: Get ‘Schooled’ in a summer of great books

I have had two incarnations as a children’s or youth services librarian in my career. It is where my heart lies. Just because that is not what I do now does not mean I have left the books behind.

This group of books just happens to all revolve around eighth-graders. So, with the Joplin Public Library summer reading programs — children’s, teen and adult — starting on Tuesday, check out what I’ve been reading and join us for a summer of great books, programs and fun for all ages.


By Gordon Korman

Imagine never having watched TV, tasted pizza, or attending a school activity. This is Capricorn (Cap, for short) Anderson’s world, until one day when his hippie grandmother, Rain, breaks her hip while picking plums on their commune. While Rain is recuperating, Cap goes to live with a social worker and her daughter. Suddenly at 13, Cap is no longer being home-schooled, but finds himself thrown into eighth grade in the local public school.

The story is written in alternating chapters by Cap, his social worker, her daughter and a few classmates. Korman does an excellent job showing each character’s emotions and how he or she deals with this unusual situation and how each of the main characters grows, adapts and changes, not only themselves, but each to other.

‘Toby Wheeler, Eighth-Grade Benchwarmer’

By Thatcher Heldring

In Heldring’s debut novel, Toby Wheeler is known as a “gym rat.” He plays pick-up basketball at the local gym on a very regular basis but he has never played for the school team. One day he is challenged on his abilities to play and finds himself agreeing to play for his eighth-grade team.

Toby fully expects to be a starter and is floored when the new coach makes him the 12th man on the team, which essentially means he’s sitting on the bench and will only see any playing time if the team is already so far ahead they can’t lose.

Thankfully for Toby, he finds himself and proves himself on the court sooner than expected. The basketball scenes are well done and have enough detail to keep basketball fans engrossed while keeping those less knowledgeable about the game turning the pages. Heldring writes a great game while bringing in all the personal turmoil that goes with being a teenager dealing with changing friendships, girls and growing up.

‘Confessions from the Principal’s Chair’

By Anna Myers

Robin “Bird” Miller is part of the “Six-Pack,” a group of very popular girls who run the school. When a “joke” on a non-popular student goes bad, Bird’s mother is so furious she pulls her from school, declaring they are moving.

Moving isn’t new to Bird. She and her mother have moved a lot but had agreed to settle down and stay in Denver so Bird has a more stable life until she graduates. Bird is horrified to be yanked out of school and forced to move to Oklahoma, her mother’s home state. Instead of landing in Tulsa, they land in Prairie Dog, Okla., on a whim and decide to stay there.

On the first day of school, Bird — dressed in a suit as a protest to not being able to bring along her favorite pair of pants — convinces her mom that she can go alone. Upon arrival, the school secretary mistakes her for the new interim principal, with whom Bird shares a name: Robin Miller.

During her two-day reign as principal, Bird comes to understand her actions at her old school and the effect of bullying. She goes to great lengths to mend her ways and derail the bullying of less-popular students at her new school.

While the premise is a bit far-fetched, the message is clear. Myers uses humor and realistic characters in her latest outing.

Susan Wray is the director of the Joplin Public Library.