CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 2 . . . . September 14, 2007
Tom’s problems are just starting as he is called to the office to defend himself against accusations that he had spray painted a message in the girls’ washroom. He has recently moved to a city school from a rural school where he rode the school bus, was very active in sports and had many friends. The principal, Mr. Loney, is reluctant to believe in Tom’s innocence, especially after a second incident when the class hamster dies and a third incident when it looks like Tom has set fire to a garbage container. All of these incidents are timed to occur when Tom is out of the classroom, and so he is automatically blamed.
Tom finds out that the other students are also reluctant to believe him because he appears to be guilty and no one is receptive to his pleas that he didn’t do it. After he is suspended for several days to think about his behavior, he fears he will never fit in at his new school. The other students taunt him and give him the nickname “Farmer” because of its similarity to Foster and also because his old school was in the middle of a corn field.
When Tom is at home, he asks his mom if he can repaint his new room blue and rid himself of its present pink colour. When he is painting, he discovers a picture of three girls. Two of the girls are in his class, and one is not familiar. When he asks about it, he finds that Tracy had lived in his new house, but, because her parents were getting a divorce, they had to move. The other two girls, Marcie and Kenda, blamed Tom for Tracy having to move because they thought the Fosters had forced Tracy and her mom out on the street.
Tom, frustrated that no one will believe in his innocence, realizes he has to set a trap for the culprits. He is successful when he leaves the room and follows the two girls to where they are defacing some school photos, and he takes pictures of the incident. The boys side with Tom, and his life at school improves.
There are many positive attributes to this novel. The vocabulary is very suitable for the reluctant reader. The novel is 7,500 words with illustrations to support the story. The dialogue is realistic and interesting. The plot is simple with characters that are age appropriate to the intended audience. The solution is logical and authentic. The other students do not immediately become friends with Tom, but there are steps in the right direction. The teachers are also realistic. When the hamster dies and the science teacher, Mr. T, thinks the hamster was poisoned, he looks for the culprit. When he realizes his overreaction, he apologizes to the class, and, because Tom was away, he makes sure that he also informs Tom about his mistake.
Another interesting aspect of the novel is the email communication that Tom has with his friend in his old school. This stylistic device adds variety for the reader and reinforcement of the plot.
The novel has a teacher’s guide with a variety of useful and useable activities such as keeping track of characters, "what if?" questions, concept charts, email writing, and active bookmarks. There are sheets that could be photocopied and suggestions for use with literature circles along with role cards for organizing the circles. There are chapter summaries, a biography of the author and background notes. As well, chapter groupings such as 2-3 include questions before and after reading, vocabulary, and a synopsis. This teacher’s guide is a terrific resource for this novel. The guide also includes other titles in this high interest series and websites for the author of the novel and creators of the guide book.
This short novel would be an excellent choice both for male and female readers as the topic is appropriate for the age group. Because of the controlled vocabulary and length, it is suitable for more reluctant readers, but other readers would enjoy the novel as well. Being in a new situation or new school is often stressful for students. The worry about not fitting in is also a common theme appropriate for this level. It could be read independently, in a small group or as a class novel.
Deborah Mervold, an educator and teacher librarian from Shellbrook, SK, is presently employed by Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST) working in the areas of faculty training and program development.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.