Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Review: No Talking by Andrew Clements (2007)

No Talking is a school story about a particularly chatty fifth grade class. Their teachers have been trying since kindergarten to get these kids to stop talking so much during the school day, and they have never been able to do it. This is why they are so surprised when, one afternoon, the entire class falls silent. Little do they know that Dave Packer and Lynsey Burgess have made a bet to see which group - the boys or the girls - can say the fewest words in two days. And little do Dave and Lynsey realize what this experience will teach them about communication, language, and each other.

Clements is a really perceptive author. His observations of school-aged kids are very insightful, and his stories are both realistic and imaginative at the same time. Though his characters are interesting, far more interesting in this book is the school environment itself. By including the points of view of students and teachers, he provides a full, clear portrait of how the school operates, and how the kids' experiment in silence affects that entire system. Too few authors use omniscient narrators in contemporary realistic fiction - Clements's style is a welcome change from the typical first-person or third person limited perspectives. I especially like the way the omniscient third-person narration is able to comment generally on certain characteristics of the individual characters as well as the class as a whole.

Here is my favorite example, from page 19, where the narrator explains about "cooties:"

However, some groups of kids cling to those cooties a little too long. The boys avoid the girls, and the girls avoid the boys, and everyone keeps seeing cooties everywhere. And, sadly, that's the way it was with most of the fifth-grade kids at Laketon Elementary School.

Of course, the fifth graders didn't actually use the word "cooties" anymore - that would have sounded like baby talk. They used words like "dumb" or "gross" or "immature" or "annoying." But a cootie by any other name is still a cootie.

Statements like this couldn't necessarily be understood or articulated by the kids in the story, but readers certainly understand them, and the entire story becomes richer by their addition.

This book can appeal to both boys and girls and would work well as a classroom read-aloud or book club pick. Readers who enjoyed Frindle and other Clements titles will be drawn to this one, as will fans of books like Regarding the Fountain by Kate and Sarah Klise, and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series by Trudy Trueit.

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