Friday, July 20, 2012

Book Review: The Landry News by Andrew Clements (1999)

Cara Landry’s teacher, Mr. Larson, was once named teacher of the year. These days, though, he is burned out and spends most of his days sitting at a desk with the newspaper and a cup of coffee, letting the kids in his class teach themselves whatever they might want to know. During one such unstructured school day Cara writes the first edition of The Landry News, her personal newspaper, in which she writes a scathing editorial about the lack of teaching in her classroom. The newspaper lights a fire under Mr. Larson, and eventually grows to become a class project that changes his outlook on teaching.

As he does in No TalkingFrindle, and Troublemaker, Andrew Clements creates a very vivid image of the school he writes about in this book. Within a very few pages, I could picture the messy, chaotic environment of Mr. Larson’s classroom, and his casual, bored demeanor as he sits at his desk. By including the principal’s point of view along with Mr. Larson’s and Cara’s, Clements gives the reader a complete view of the school and a great sense of where everyone fits in the grand scheme of things. I like that Clements is able to keep the school story genre fresh by spending time on these details in each of his books.

The plot itself is pretty predictable, though there are some twists and turns on the way to the obvious ending. There is a bit of emotional mushiness that might make adult readers - especially teachers - a bit misty-eyed, but this is balanced out pretty well by the lessons the kids learn about freedom of the press, and by Cara’s own journey toward getting over her parents’ divorce. This book isn’t as funny as some of Clements’s other books, but it has a lot of heart, and it encourages kids to consider their teachers as people, not just authority figures.

Recommend this book to Clements fans, and to readers who have enjoyed The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman by Ben H. Winters, Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea, Nothing But the Truth by Avi, and Clementine’s Letter by Sara Pennypacker.

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