Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dog My Dragon! Mason Dixon: Fourth Grade Disasters by Claudia Mills

"Fourth grade!" said Mason Dixon's mother as she sat on the family-room floor surrounded by bags of school supplies. "Tomorrow is the first day of fourth grade!"

Lying on the floor next to her, Mason tried not to scowl. He must not have succeeded, because she said, "Stop frowning! Fourth grade is wonderful. It will be your best year yet!"

That wasn't saying much.

Mason Dixon is a wet blanket. A lovable wet blanket, but still.... He doesn't like surprises. He doesn't school. He doesn't like sports. He doesn't even like Halloween costumes.

And what he's sure he's not going to like, big time, is being one of the Plainfield Platters, a locally famous choral group of fourth and fifth graders from Plainfield Elementary. He doesn't like to sing and he especially doesn't like to sing in public, in front of an audience--something he discovered in Kindergarten when, performing as an enthusiastic little tipping teapot, he fell off the risers and brought down the house with lots of loud laughter. Class bully Dunk Davis has never let anyone forget about that public appearance. All Dunk has to do is hum a few measures of "I'm a little teapot" to put Mason in a full-day funk.

But Mason has some things going for him. There are his parents, cheering him on, overenthusiastically for Mason's taste, his beloved dog, Dog, his best friend, perennial optimist Brody Baxter, and his second-best friend, the quietly brilliant Nora.

And his new teacher, "Coach Joe" isn't grumpy and doesn't hate boys like his previous teachers. What he is, though, is another over-the-top optimist.

"All right, team! Come up for a huddle! If we're going to have a winning season this year, we have to have a winning attitude!

This year," Coach Joe said, "We are going to be making a full-court press on writing." He pumped his fist into the air.

Mason wasn't the type of person who pumped his fist into the air.

A full-court press on writing was another clue that this was not going to be a good year.

Already a past master of lip-sync, Mason positions himself on the risers as far from Dunk as he can get and manages to get through the early rehearsals of the Platters, comforted by his deal with his parents that he can drop the chorus after the first concert if he still doesn't like it. He plugs away on his writing assignment, working on a story about Pedro the Piano who does not like to play in public. Everything is going along uneventfully, the way Mason likes it, until the first performance of the Plainfield Platters draws near, and Brody notices that their large, plush mascot and inspiration for the school song, Puff the Magic Dragon, has a tail in desperate need of repair. Puff is losing his fluff! Brody offers Mason's mother's services as seamstress, and she happily accepts the job. In fact, she is so taken with the honor that she even volunteers to make a kid-sized Puff costume for the chosen soloist for the concert.

Now Mason is really worried. More than usual, that is. What if Dog takes out his love of chewing things up on Puff? Dog is a wonderful dog, but he's an expert in getting his teeth into things that don't need chewing! And what if, in appreciation for his mother's costume, Ms. Marengo picks him to be the soloist? All Mason can do is warn his mother, three times, to keep Puff in her sewing room, behind closed doors while he's at school.

For once Mason resolves to be proactive, selling his music teacher on the idea of making him a one-man stage crew in charge of house lights and piano bench placement. Now, with a little bit of luck, Mason feels he can escape even lip-sync public "singing" and still keep his deal with his parents, and if all goes well, after the big performance, he will no longer be a Plainfield Platter! Life will be simple and uncomplicated, like Mason likes it.

But Mason's feeling of dread is indeed a portent. Dog seizes his chance when Mom dashes downstairs to answer the doorbell and totally consumes Puff the Magic Dragon's head. Mom says she will take care of it, but Mason is racked with anxiety. And then during the parent performance, Brody, dressed as Puff, has his one-and-only attack of stage fright when it is time for his big solo. Somehow, Mason Dixon feels sure that the total responsibility for this disaster is on him.

In Claudia Mill's second story in her Mason Dixon series, Mason Dixon: Fourth-Grade Disasters (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), skillful and witty writing make this perpetual party-pooper into a totally sympathetic and hilarious character. In the tradition of Judy Bloom's classic Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, this series by the veteran and award-winning Claudia Mills, amiably illustrated by Guy Francis, has well-developed characters with which younger middle readers can identify and plenty of family and classroom humor to keep them laughing all the way. "Hilarious yet believable twists and deadpan humor make this glimpse into fourth-grade life a treat," says School Library Journal.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home