Monday, September 23, 2013

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading (Charlie Joe Jackson #1) by Tommy Greenwald

I have great empathy for parents who are baffled by their bloodlines being sabotaged with the appearance of a non-lovin-reader in the family. "Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading" not only addresses the child who hates reading, but it has the adult humor for the parent of a nonreader. Charlie Joe is clear at the get-go that his book will show you how to get out of reading and it will be a nice easy book. His first tip is to make sure you choose a book with short chapters; that way when your parents say to read three chapters and each is only one page versus ten pages then you can blow through three pages instead of plodding through 30. Next he explains how he has always hated reading and that it got him into some big whomping trouble in middle school. Directly afterwards he writes apologetically: "I just looked at the previous chapter and realized it was way too long. I just ignored Charlie Joe's Tip #1! Sorry about that. Won't happen again." It's darn funny and the author seems to be having a hey-ho time writing it. The reason I grabbed this book was because some grade 5 boys said, "If you liked 'The Strange Case of Origami Yoda,' YOU GOTTA read, 'Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading!' It's super funny." Bingo. 

Charlie Joe has been paying his friend Timmy to read books for him the past two years. He doesn't pay him cash but buys snacks for him after school. Ice cream sandwiches seem to do be the favorite. When Timmy blows the whistle on their arrangement, Charlie Joe is determined to find someone else to take his place because he doesn't want to read for the huge end-of-the-year project. His elaborate plan involves the school nerd going out with a popular girl and its effect on cliches at school. When things backfire he comes up with a new plan for not reading. Let's face it. Charlie Joe ain't ever gonna love reading. No way. No how. Not ever.

Ya gotta hand it to him, Charlie Joe is creative. I've never seen a character come up with such unique ways to avoid reading. He hates it so much he is willing to give up a collector's Beattle's album cover. Charlie Joe will read the beginning and the end of a book. He'll memorize notes of friends who summarize the book for him. It's obvious he's smart and his tips poke fun at reading in a way that will have all readers laughing such as "if you want girls to like you, don't read" or "never read a book by someone whose name you can't pronounce. Let's face it: chances are you wouldn't be reading this book if it were called 'Venedkyt Styokierwski's Guide to Not Reading'" or "The Library Can be Your Friend." He explains how you can pick up a girl at the library by pretending to read which goes against his other tip but hey, he's a middle schooler - they are meant to vacillate. He then launches into the library as your enemy sarcastically but honestly saying how he knows he should get sucked into the story but can't. He looks at the people reading newspapers and wonders what he is doing with these reading martians.

Tommy Greenwald's choice of the unreliable narrator is what makes this book more funny than if it would be if it was just a straightforward narration. Literature is full of unreliable narrators. According to Wayne C. Booth in his book, The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), a reliable author works within the norms of the author; whereas, the unreliable author is misleading or presents the opposite of the author's views. In this case, the unreliable author makes for great irony, but also gives empathy toward those who truly do not like reading. Charlie Joe is a smart kid. He just doesn't like to read and will go to great lengths to not do so. Of course the one part where he has only read 18 pages in two hours would make me hate reading too. The author even says he wrote the book for his sons, Charlie, Joe, and Jack who do not like to read, (even the title is full of irony). I wondered if Charlie Joe had a reading problem, but the author doesn't introduce or hint at that. Instead the boy hates to read and will go to great lengths scheming to get out of it. The nonreaders at my school are the hard ones to hook. This might do the trick.

Fountas & Pinnell: S
Reading Level 5.4
4 Smileys

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