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The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, like all of Clements' books, this one can lead kids to examine aspects of their own school lives -- in this case, the natures of popularity and leadership, the roles of teachers and students in education, the workings of peer groups and school institutions, and what makes for a meaningful performance.
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What's the story?
School choral director Mr. Meinert is about to be laid off because of budget cutbacks, his wife is pressuring him to get out of teaching altogether, and his students mostly hate chorus. One day he finally snaps, and, without thinking it through, tells his students that he is bowing out, and they are in charge of the holiday concert. They will be up on stage for half an hour in front of everyone, and he's having nothing more to do with it.
At first the students are stunned, then thrilled to do nothing during chorus period. But it dawns on them that if they don't do something they will look like fools at the concert. So they elect popular Hart Evans, who had shot Mr. Meinert with a rubber band in class just the day before, to be in charge, even though he doesn't want to do it. Now this socially talented boy and his soon-to-be-ex-teacher may have to look to each other to make a miracle out of this mess.
Is it any good?
Right now Andrew Clements is the king of the middle-grade novel, for four reasons. Nobody knows the ins and outs of elementary school life, and the workings of gifted students and teachers, as well as he does. Nobody writes endings so purely satisfying. Few are writing with this kind of depth and emotional complexity for this age group. And Clements is the leading, perhaps even the only, writer for kids of a genre one might call Realistic Fantasy (think "The West Wing"), in which things happen not as they do in real life, but as they should.
Readers won't be able to put this book down, not because it is filled with action and suspense (it isn't), or to find out if the villain will win (there are no villains), but because it is, from beginning to end, so completely delightful, so satisfying, so right. It's the kind of book that makes the reader sigh happily after finishing it, then turn back to the beginning and read it again, just for the pleasure of it. It's a book that thousands of music teachers all over the country will be given as a holiday present by grateful students, a book that may inspire both teachers and students to new ideas and new understandings of each other. And, in a time when both movies and books seem to take delight in trashing the holidays and making fun of traditions, it's a book that will surely become a holiday classic because it does neither.