Monday, October 6, 2008

Homework blues

The one library in my general vicinity that has continued to purchased teen books on cassette has bought their last one, I fear. I've got one of our nominations on hold there, but it's been on order for a long time. It's obvious I'm going to have to come up with another listening solution for the car. Can I get one of those adapters for a CD player? Maybe I should just buy this one! So, among the last gasps on tape was The Homework Machine -- a YRCA nominated book. (I know I've said this before -- forgive me, it's middle age -- I think my choice would be To Dance.)

Four disparate fifth graders stuck together at the same work table because their last names all begin with D cheat on their homework over the course of the school year by using one of their members' computer homework machine. Scan in the questions and presto! your homework emerges from the printer complete in your handwriting. Told in many alternating voices -- the four kids plus a classmate and a bunch of adults who were truly not paying attention -- the students learn some life lessons and become good friends.

I had so many problems with this book because I was reading it as an adult: endless unsupervised computer time, an unexplained online stalker, too early sexualization with a belly button piercing and boyfriend/girlfriend status, stereotypical racial portrayals (the geeky smart kid is Asian, the "lazy" girl is black), a teacher who can't seem to figure out why the four students sitting at the same table are all producing homework that's exactly the same, etc. However I can see that some kids might enjoy this (although won't most of them ask the same questions I did?), there's so much more good stuff out there for the upper elementary set. What about A Crooked Kind of Perfect? Or The True Meaning of Smekday?

As for the audio version, there were a variety of readers which kept it interesting. The readers portraying the kids sounded youthful and were consistent in their personalities. The format did get a little tiresome towards the end because each chapter would begin with the reader stating their character's name and grade and the chapters were often very, very short. Still, I don't know how else you could narrate such a book, and since I'm all for audiobooks, this will have to do.

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