Monday, July 23, 2007

Back to School: No Talking by Andrew Clements

Nobody chronicles turn of the (twenty-first) century elementary school life better than Andrew Clements, and his new just-published novel No Talking is no exception.

Dave Packer and his female nemesis Lynsey Burgess are notable motormouths in a notorious fifth-grade class the teachers of Laketon Elementary christened "The Unshushables" back in their Kindergarten year. They're good kids, even good students, but so loud and talkative that their principal Mrs. Hiatt patrols the cafeteria with a bullhorn and their teachers are already planning the celebration when the whole class graduates.

But while Dave is researching his report on India with Lynsey, he is struck by Gandhi's custom of foregoing speech one day a week "to bring order to the mind." Dave is intrigued and decides to test his ability to keep quiet all day Monday. To get out of his share of the oral report with Lynsey, though, Dave has to feign a coughing fit, and Lynsey is livid! At a lunchroom showdown, Dave breaks his rule of silence long enough to challenge Lynsey and the girls to a silence test--two days of NO TALKING, on the honor system, with the caveat that the boy and girl teams may respond to grownups at school with no more than three-word answers.

It's a tall order for the Unshushables, and the eerie silence which falls on the whole fifth grade shakes Laketon Elementary to the core. At first the teachers are giddy with the lovely quiet in their classrooms, but soon they discover that it's hard to go on with their usual lessons without comments and questions from the students. Principal Hiatt, control freak that she is, has a total meltdown when the students resolutely keep quiet when she commands them, through her bullhorn, in no uncertain terms to "TALK. I WANT YOU TO TALK RIGHT NOW!" Respectful but angry, too, Dave stands up to issue his manifesto:

"I do not have to talk now if I don't want to. This is our lunch time. None of us has to talk. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT."

The contest goes on, even spreading to the lower grades, as Dave and Lynsey grimly tally up the slips into speech by the opposing team, with the losing team pledged to wear an indelible red "L" for Losers on their foreheads at the end of the 48-hour period. Somehow, though, Dave and Lynsey become allies in the struggle to keep their challenge alive, and teachers rally to the challenge of teaching in creative ways within the limits of the contest. Silently, nonverbally, the two rivals agree to call the contest a draw as they compile the final tally. The Unshushables, boys and girls alike, declare themselves both winners.

Clements' novels share an admirable theme in which the main character's rebellion against some adult convention results in his or her finding a novel way to work within the system to accomplish the objective. Clements' third-person omniscient voice works perfectly in this novel, with points of view shifting between Dave's and Lynsey's battle of the sexes, Mrs. Hiatt's fuming alone in her office, and the faculty lounge where the teachers debate how to handle this novel situation. The New York Times Book Review calls No Talking "Clements' best school story since [ Frindle. ]"

Other notable school stories by Andrew Clements include The Landry News, Lunch Money, A Week in the Woods, The Last Holiday Concert, and the Jake Drake series.



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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:17 PM  

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