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Summary: Oliver's third grade class is studying the solar system. Crystal Harding, Oliver's classmate is horrified that Pluto is no longer a planet. Oliver sort of agrees with her - it doesn't seem fair. At home, Oliver's parents have taken over his assignment to create a solar system diorama. They know what they want; they don't need his ideas. Even when Mrs. O'Neill asked each student to come up with an idea that can change the world, Oliver's Mom told him what to suggest. That doesn't seem fair, either. When Crystal suggests they work together on the diorama, Oliver agrees ... but then he has to convince his parents and suffer the embarrassment of Crystal coming to his house. How can he change the world if he can't change his parents? This is a story that kids will relate to and that reminds parents to let their kids grow up!
Type of Reading: bedtime story, independent reading, read aloud book
Recommended Age: read together: 7 to 10; read yourself: 9 to 12
Young Reader Reaction: This book was very deep for something of its kind. Overprotective parents aren't new, but the way Oliver makes them change stands out. Instead of rebelling blindly and butting heads with his parents, Oliver stays calm and quiet, takes his opportunity and accepts help from the other people around him to make a difference in the relationship. I think this is a very, very good lesson for children. It shows them how changing things does not always have to be fueled by argument and conflict, and that taking things one step at a time is very useful. As much as I liked the book, I did have an issue with the portrayal of the parents. At the end when Oliver talks to them about his concerns, his dad changes his mind too easily (which does not fit with the rest of his character) and Oliver's mom is too stubborn. I would have rather depicted the resolution as more collective, so that the gender was not as determinant.
Adult Reader Reaction: This was a great story. Although there are other characters, this is Oliver's story. His thoughts, his feelings, and his reactions are all pulled into a tightly knit story. The author sprinkles some great factual information in the story, too.
Pros: Humor and perspective add to this story about the challenges one boy faces trying to do his own homework. The author gently but directly reminds parents whose homework it is!
Borrow or Buy: Borrow, at least. This was a fun story and it could easily be one that kids return to ... or hand Mom and Dad ... when they feel pressured by parental involvement in their homework or being treated like a baby.
Educational Themes: The threads that bind the story are two school projects: creating the solar system diorama and preparing for the visit of a state senator by sending her a letter with an idea to change the world. Although the science project is self-contained, you can extract the "how would you change the world" idea to use with your kids, or to be the baseline for talking about how an idea becomes a law. The story is bound to start lots of empathetic discussions about parental involvement in homework, being trusted, etc. Although subtle, there is a secondary storyline about Oliver going beyond his judgement of Crystal to see her as a person/friend, not a gabby classmate.
Notes: A Reading Tub® reviewer borrowed the book from the local library as part of the 2009-2010 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award (Cybils) process. This review is not intended to represent the opinions of the Cybils. The book will be donated to a reader in need.
A teen volunteer borrowed this book from the library.