Clements's (The Report Card) latest school-centered novel introduces Hart Evans, the most popular boy in school ("Hart could have charmed the hairnet off a cafeteria lady"). He hates sixth-grade chorus; while the chorus practices for the upcoming holiday concert, the bored boy shoots two elastic bands that hit the teacher, Mr. Meinert. The man hustles Hart to the principal's office, and readers then discover something that Hart does not know: because of budget cuts, the chorus director's job is being terminated at semester's end. His patience strained by this and by his class's lack of interest, the teacher snaps and hands responsibility for the concert to the students ("It's not my concert. It's your concert. You don't like the songs I've picked? Fine. Pick your own"). After the students elect Hart as director, the teacher looks on with understandably mixed feelings. Meanwhile, as the boy panics about the approaching concert, his diplomacy gives way to bossiness that lands him in trouble with his peers. The third-person narrative focuses on both boy and teacher, and some readers may grow impatient with the sections that reveal Mr. Meinert's feelings. It comes as no surprise that-with Meinert's help-the concert is an unparalleled success. Though the account of the culminating event and of Hart's farewell to the teacher are affecting, Clements's fans may find that this belabored tale does not live up to his best performances. Ages 8-12. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
This tale of popular sixth grader, Hart Evans, and his leadership role in the holiday concert has great premise, but suffers somewhat from wordy descriptions and long passages of narration in lieu of dialog. The author obviously understands young people and the story would have been more engaging if told completely from the child's perspective. Extensive explanation of the thinking of the music teacher and of other adults, indeed, too much adult intervention in general, detracts from the story. Young readers might have preferred to see Hart engage peer support to solve his problems rather than receive assistance and advice from his father and music teacher. The character of Hart's sister, the pesky sibling, could have been developed to a greater extent. The final scene of the holiday concert is both humorous and charming. Unfortunately, it may be too slow of a read to reach that point, particularly for reluctant readers. 2004, Simon & Schuster, Ages 8 to 12.
Gr 4-7-Sixth-grader Hart Evans's least-favorite class is chorus, where uptight Mr. Meinert makes them sing boring songs. When Hart shoots a couple of rubber bands at the teacher, the man overreacts and is angry when the smooth-talking boy gets off relatively unscathed. Although the class is not told, readers learn that Mr. Meinert will lose his job after January 1 because of budget cuts. When the students act up the next day, he snaps and decides to place the responsibility for the holiday concert in their hands. This sets in motion a series of events that leaves Hart running the show with the teacher watching, learning, and eventually helping out. The plot unfolds to encompass control issues, democratic procedures, and an end product that wows the crowd. Clements is a master at taking elements of relatively common school situations and turning them into masterful stories with truly engaging characters. Foreshadowing provides glimpses of the program during the chapters leading up to the conclusion, but the climactic description of the event will leave youngsters teeming with emotion. The book's accessible language and quick pace will also appeal to reluctant readers.-Debbie Whitbeck, West Ottawa Public Schools, Holland, MI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A sixth-grader and an inexperienced teacher both learn something from each other in Clements's newest teachable-moment-driven school tale. Hart Evans has always, and effortlessly, been Cool-a talent that backfires when his control-freak music teacher, Mr. Meinert, throws up his hands and leaves it to the unruly school chorus to elect its own director for the upcoming Holiday Concert. Hart surprises both Mr. Meinert and himself by rising brilliantly to the occasion. Clements stirs a few side issues into the pot-for one, Meinert and the other arts teachers are being laid off on January first-but his focus being Hart's introduction to group dynamics and the management thereof, complications of plot or character cause only minor ripples. Having learned the value of listening, of running things democratically, and of knowing when to seek help, Hart and Meinert engineer a quirky, rousing triumph-that, no, doesn't save Meinert's job, but does leave everyone involved, readers included, with both good feelings and the idea that both young people and adults are sometimes guilty of underestimating each other. (Fiction. 10-12)