Story Time

Story Time

4.0 35
by Edward Bloor

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Welcome to the Whittaker Magnet School, where standardized testing truly is the work of the devil.
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Welcome to the Whittaker Magnet School, where standardized testing truly is the work of the devil.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
This is satire of a high order. Bloor knows how to load on outrageous twists with a trowel while retaining just enough verisimilitude to maintain credibility and interest. Like Lemony Snicket, he's adept at sketching adult villains with an amusing soupcon of sadism … As for Bloor (who, like Clements, earned his school stripes in the trenches, teaching), he's certifiably brilliant, too. Despite occasional violent excesses, he has spun an ingenious, intricate tale that's as astute as it is entertaining. — Sandy MacDonald
Publishers Weekly
"In the sprawling, satirical tradition of his Tangerine and Crusader," PW wrote, "Bloor delivers a no-holds-barred, deeply subversive tale about modern education." Ages 12-up. (Aug.)n Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Take two bright middle school students, add a school that promises high test scores, blend in a mystery, top with a satirical look at education, and the result is the recipe for the newest offering by Bloor, author of Tangerine (Harcourt, 1997/VOYA August 1997). George and his niece, Kate, who is actually two years older than George, are invited to attend the prestigious Whittaker Magnet School. The school, which meets in the basement of the town's public library, prides itself on the achievements of its students who score higher on tests than any students in the country. Visits from the president and first lady to the Whittaker School are being planned as Kate and George become students. Kate, dismayed to discover that seating in each class is arranged by students' test scores, resigns herself to sitting in the last seat in the last row. Simply being made to feel inferior, however, is not the only bad thing happening at Whittaker. Kate and George soon learn that the tradition of "Story Time" carries with it some awful events from the past. The two must combine forces to unearth the deadly secret of Story Time. Bloor successfully combines humor, mystery, and fantasy in this satire about the pitfalls of education. The satirical aspect of the novel might appeal more to teachers than to students. Middle school students will appreciate more the librarian who speaks only in nursery rhymes, the spirits who wreak havoc with what should be a peaceful story time, and the efforts of two powerless students who manage to solve the mystery at the core of the story. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2004, Harcourt, 432p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Teri S. Lesesne
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, March 2004: When George and Kate are admitted to the elite Whittaker Magnet School as part of the county's "Leave No High-Scoring Child Behind Program," they have high expectations, as the school has the highest test scores in the country. Their hopes are quickly dashed, though, when they realize that the students do nothing but practice test-taking in windowless rooms and that the administrators and their offspring are pompous, vain and uncaring. Worse still, there seems to be an evil spirit loose in the building, with mayhem and murder in mind. It's up to George and Kate to trap the spirit and enact some serious school reform in this combined ghost story/broad satire of modern educational practices. Bloor, author of Tangerine and Crusader, weaves in many other plotlines as well, such as Kate's search for her lost father and her mother's search for self-confidence, and offers some darkly humorous portraits of educational administrators and local bigwigs. A funny, offbeat, often Gothic tale. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2004, Harcourt, 431p., Ages 12 to 15.
—Paula Rohrlick
Children's Literature
Former high school teacher Edward Bloor obviously holds an opinion or two about the emphasis on testing in modern education. In this novel, sixth-grader George, and his niece, Kate, who is two years older than him, are enrolled in the Whittaker Magnet School. While George is excited about the opportunity to attend the prestigious school, which boasts some of the highest test scores in the nation, Kate feels out of place and misses her friends and activities from her old school. And Kate is less than thrilled about the school's "Test-Based Curriculum." The only reason Kate was invited to Whittaker is because she shares an address with George. Worst of all, the library's books seem to be inhabited by demons. Open the wrong book and the demon could possess your body, making you behave in strange and sometimes dangerous ways. People have even turned up dead. With the First Lady of the United States scheduled to take a tour of the school, something wild and wicked is sure to occur. The story, even with its wild twists and turns, takes a back seat to Bloor's scathing satire on the state of education in the United States. The host of characters representing the school's establishment is in turns vain, pompous, and wrong-headed. 2004, Harcourt, Ages 12 up.
—Christopher Moning
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-A book filled with social satire, black comedy, fantasy/humor, and extreme situations. Eighth-grader Katie and her brilliant Uncle George, a sixth grader, find themselves mysteriously redistricted and assigned to Whittaker Magnet School, which focuses entirely on excellence in standardized testing. The regimented kids are taught by regimented teachers in the basement of a haunted old library building and the school is run by a strange family obsessed with its own achievements, whether they are earned or not. All sorts of things are amiss at Whittaker, where elitism reigns; where dramatic deaths are hidden nearly as carefully as the dark secrets involving the building, the town, and the people who live there; and where appearances are paramount. Back at home, Kate lives with her agoraphobic mom, who has mysterious ties to the library, while George lives next door. Kate wants only to return to Lincoln Middle, where she could play Peter Pan and be with friends, while George tries to make the best of what is a monstrously warped situation. The Whittaker family goes to extremes to impress the visiting First Lady, creating an atmosphere ripe for catastrophe-as well as for redemption. This expansive and engrossing tale has elements of Roald Dahl, J. K. Rowling, and J. M. Barrie (the Peter Pan subtheme is not coincidental), but with a decidedly American flair. The many seemingly unconnected threads do eventually come together, but it is hardly worth the effort as this overly ambitious author has spread himself way too thin.-Mary R. Hofmann, Rivera Middle School, Merced, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
George and Kate Melvil have won acceptance to Whittaker Magnet School, where they will be exposed to the finest teaching methods in the US and subjected to a test-based, "Leave No High-Scoring Child Behind" program. Classes take place in windowless rooms in the basement, where Kate and her fellow students, the "Mushroom Children," drink protein shakes and use treadmills to stay in shape for the standardized tests taken every day in every class. Students memorize the prefectures of Japan and GRE vocabulary words, and children's books are read at Story Time for the phonics lessons they inspire. Kate hates the school and wants nothing more than to be at her old school, singing and acting in the upcoming production of Peter Pan. Adults will relish this wild satire on modern education; young readers will enjoy the horror-story trappings of ghosts, bizarre occurrences, demonic possession, and the big, dark school that looks like Dracula's castle. A creation with wide appeal. (Fiction. 12+)
From the Publisher
"Brilliant . . . An ingenious, intricate tale."—The New York Times Book Review

"Bloor successfully combines humor, mystery, and fantasy in this satire about the pitfalls of education."--VOYA

"A no-holds-barred, deeply subversive tale about modern education . . . Great, smart fun."—Publishers Weekly

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A Carefree Evening

Kate was flying. She was thinking beautiful thoughts, and she was flying.

She sailed across the backyard in a graceful arc, ten feet above the dirt, rising over the fence at her apogee near the kitchen window and dipping below it at her perigee near the back gate.

Kate's uncle George, a slight, bespectacled boy, ran along the ground below her like a disembodied shadow. He had a length of rope tied around his waist. It ran up to a system of pulleys that were screwed deeply into the oak branch, threading through them and connecting, finally, to Kate. He was Kate's ballast, scurrying back and forth beneath the big oak branch, grunting and tugging in contrast to her effortless aerobatics.

He called up to her, "How does the bodice feel?"

Kate thought for a moment about the Velcro-and-wire brace wrapped around her body. "It's killing my armpits on the turns," she shouted, "but it's worth it! I'm flying, Uncle George. I'm sprinkled with fairy dust and I'm flying!" Spontaneously she broke into the first big number from Peter Pan, singing lustily, "I'm flying! Look at me way up high, suddenly here am I. I'm flying!"

As she sang, Kate dipped one arm and one leg left, executing a smooth glide across the length of the yard and then back again. Her auburn hair wafted on and off her forehead, and her green eyes shone in the sunset.

On the ground, George hustled to keep up with her. He was two years younger than his niece, Kate. He was twenty-two years younger than Kate's mother, his sister, June.

Theirs was an unusual, although not unheard of, family arrangement. George and his parents, Kate's grandparents, lived in one-half of a gray-shingled duplex, with this fenced-in yard, while Kate and June lived in the other half. This is how things had always been, for as long as George had been alive.

George was red and sweating when he called up, "Let's try a landing."

"No," Kate shouted back. "Please, Uncle George. Let me sing 'Never Never Land,' and then I'll come down."

George paused for a moment to check his invention. The pulleys were still securely attached to the tree. The rope was gliding smoothly through them. The bodice was a good fit, except for Kate's armpits. With a satisfied nod and a sigh, he took off running once again as the warm early-September evening faded slowly into dusk.

Kate scooted her arms and legs outward, ballerina-like, and sang, "I know a place where dreams are born and time is never planned. It's not on any chart; you must find it with your heart, Never Never Land."

With each move, Kate gained more confidence dancing on the air, coordinating her arms and legs in sweeping jetés, grand gestures for the audience in the back row of the Lincoln Middle School auditorium. That was where, in two months' time, she hoped to be starring in the fall production of Peter Pan. But for now her performance was for George alone.

Kate and George's duplex sat in a row of such double homes. Most were occupied by two unrelated families, and their facades clearly demonstrated this. Home owners up and down the street painted their front porches in colors that seemed deliberately at odds with their next-door neighbors'. But that was not the case at Kate and George's house. Their front and back porches extended from one side of the duplex to the other in uninterrupted gray.

The back porch sagged slightly as a plump, muscular woman stepped onto it. She wore bright red boots, a yellow cowgirl dress with red stitching, and a white cowgirl hat decorated with a multitude of feathers, mirrors, and sequins.

She was joined by a thin, craggy-faced man. He was dressed all in black, from his boots to his hat. His black shirt, however, had yellow stitching in a pattern similar to the woman's red stitching.

The two stood together, tapping the heels of their boots lightly and surveying the scene in their backyard, not the slightest bit surprised by what they saw. Their granddaughter, Kate, was flying through the air and singing, and their son, George, was huffing and puffing beneath her, keeping her up in the air with some crazy contraption that he had probably just invented.

The woman smiled wide, held up a letter, and let out an earsplitting whoop. The man joined in, whooping along with her, startling George and snapping Kate out of her happy reverie.

George stumbled and fell, catapulting Kate into a wild arc over the garbage cans toward the trunk of the tree. She quickly pulled her legs in and managed to bounce off the tree, unharmed, while George struggled to his feet.

"Georgie!" the woman screamed. "Where's my little genius boy?"

The man beckoned. "Come on, Georgie. Come on over here and look at this letter."

Kate snarled at them. "Ma! Pa! George is attached to me right now."

Ma laughed. "Then get yourself unattached, Georgie, and get over here."

George had by now strained his small body to the limit. "Kate," he panted, "I'll let you down."

"No! I don't want to come down. I want to keep flying."

George looked at his parents and back to Kate in despair. "You heard them. I have to go."

"Fine. Then go. Just let me swing back and forth."

"You can't. You need a ballast."

Kate completed two slow passes over George's head, then told him, "Tie me to the railing."

George carefully undid the rope around his waist and struggled to tie it to the porch railing. Kate was now confined to a small arc, but she stubbornly continued to practice her moves.

Ma waved the letter high. "Georgie! This letter says that you are a genius and that you are invited to go to the genius school, right here in town."

Pa echoed, "Right here in town, son, down at the Whittaker Building. They got a school for geniuses just like you. Did you know that?"

"It's called the Whittaker Magnet School, Pa. We all had to take a test for it."

Ma started to whoop again. "You sure did! And you passed it!"

Pa said, "You're on your way now, son."

George shook his head. "It's sixth grade, Pa. I'm only going into sixth grade."

"Not for long, though. Eh, Georgie boy?"

"Well, I'd say for about a year."

"Then you'll be going to a genius college."

"No, then I'll be going to seventh grade."

George's parents doubled over in laughter at that remark, so he turned to check on Kate. Her momentum had wound down almost completely. She drifted slowly in place above the yard. George shook out his arm muscles, took a firm grip, and began to unknot the rope.

The door to the other side of the house opened, and a thin, bony woman with unnaturally bright blond hair walked out onto the porch. Next to her overdressed parents, she looked particularly drab in a shapeless blue housedress.

"Lookit here, June," her mother said, pointing at the letter in the fading light.

June muttered, "I didn't bring my glasses. What does it say?"

"It says your brother, George, passed some big test and he's going to that genius school in town."

June looked at George and told him, "Congratulations."

That set George's parents off again. They danced back into the house, making a syncopated sound with their boots.

June looked out at her daughter, Kate, who had by now come to a complete halt. June slowly reached into the housedress and pulled out an identical envelope. "Kate," she said quietly, "you got a letter, too."

Kate's jaw clenched, and her eyes focused in on the envelope.

George's hands froze in their effort to untie the rope. He and June stared up at Kate hanging limply in the fading light, like a fairy who had run out of flying dust.

Copyright © 2004 by Edward Bloor

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department,
Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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