Monday, December 07, 2009

Christmas Wishes? The Christmas Genie by Dan Gutman

You're probably not going to believe this story.

Fine. That's okay. It's a free country.

But I know what happened, because I was there. Where's there? Lincoln School in Oak Park, Illinois. Fifth grade.

It happened just before winter vacation, on December 21. That's the winter solstice....

Foreshadowing!! English folklorists know that it is on the shortest, darkest day of the year, when the unseen world is closest, that strange things can happen. It was on that midwinter eve when, in Susan Cooper's Newbery-winning The Dark Is Rising (The Dark Is Rising Sequence), Will Stanton's walk in the new-fallen snow takes him back in time to fight the renewed rising of the forces of darkness.

Dan Gutman's latest, The Christmas Genie, doesn't involve cosmic battles with good and evil, but a presentiment of a squat, wise-cracking spirit which emerges from a meteorite which falls, auspiciously, right through Chase's desk, interrupting Mrs. Walters' science lesson, which appropriately enough is on meteors. For a thirteen million light-years old genie, "Bob" is amazingly with it, dressed in flip flops and a tie-dyed tee and spouting the latest put-downs.

"You speak English?"

"Any dope can speak English," the genie said. "It's Japanese that's tricky."

"You ARE a genie, aren't you?" I said.

"Well, I ain't Santa Claus, that's for sure."

The disgruntled gremlin does make a deal with the amazed class--he'll grant one wish in return for their silence about his sudden appearance, with the caveat that they must come up with it within the hour or Bob will cancel their winter break. Mrs. Walters, ever vigilant for a teaching opportunity, springs into action, handing out 3 x 5 cards and instructing each student to submit one wish for class consideration. That woman can make an assignment out of anything, Chase grumbles to himself.

"Oh, one more thing." Bob said, "Remember the old saying--'Be careful what you wish for.'"

Borrowing from folklore, Gutman slyly makes that theme real for the fifth graders. Chase's wish for "all the money in the world" is shot down quickly by the class pragmatist who points out that if no one else had any capital, there would be no products to buy with his money. Other wishes prove equally problematic: kids get the vote? But they'd probably elect Miley Cyrus president, one realist says. Room-sized flat-screen TVs for everyone? Some people don't even have electricity or houses with walls to put them on, another points out. Every day is your birthday? You'd be dead in three months! The clock clicks inexorably forward as the stack of wish cards shrinks, with no agreement among the kids.

Will Mrs. Walters' class wind up with no wish and no winter vacation either?

Gutman, a best-selling author praised for his ability to draw reluctant male readers under his free-wheeling, humorous spell as shown in his earlier Nightmare at the Book Fair, and his prolific My Weird School Daze series (found here: and his historical sports fantasy series, Baseball Card Adventures (see here), manages to come up with more than just a goofy Christmas story. Gutman's books are known to be potent boy bait, while, as in the case of The Christmas Genie, artfully slipping in some thought-provoking themes among the hilarious and inventive plot lines. As one reviewer put it, "Gutman packs plenty of history, science, and ethics lessons in this fun, well-paced fantasy that happens to take place at Christmas, but will be enjoyed at any time of year. This book is laugh-out-loud funny from page one."

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  • This is a great literacy tool! I'm glad one of my teaching peers put it in her bookclub blog side panel.

    By Blogger Busha, at 12:04 PM  

  • Thanks, Busha! I love to be of help to hard-working teachers. Anyone else is welcome to link to me!

    By Blogger GTC, at 9:07 AM  

  • suspense and adventurous stories always attract readers, and its one of them. Great Read.

    By Anonymous ebooks uk, at 7:01 AM  

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