Friday, December 2, 2011

A FINE, FINE SCHOOL



Written by Sharon Creech

Illustrated by Harry Bliss

(Joanna Cotler Books, 2001)

Hard to believe I have waited so long to blog this book. This title should be prominently displayed in every school library and in every principal’s office.

Mr. Keene is the principal of Fine Elementary School. He marvels at all the wonderful things that happen there. The children learn amazing things. The teachers instruct in amazing ways. He cannot contain his excitement and his pride. He cheerily pronounces, “Aren’t these fine teachers? Aren’t these fine children? Isn’t this a fine, fine school?”

And how nice it is to hear a principal speak so positively!

Mr. Keene decides you can’t have too much of a good thing. Imagine, if students are thriving so much at school, then the only possible way for things to be better is—this is where I pause during a reading—to have MORE school. Hooray for school on Saturdays! And since I am a principal, I always comment on what a fine idea Mr. Keene has. I jump up and grab a pencil and paper to jot down this wonderful idea as some students are intrigued, others horrified.

It doesn’t stop there, of course. Since students learn even more with school on Saturdays, Mr. Keene takes the more is better principle to the next level...and then the next. Everything is fine!

My audience laughs and squirms as I continue to jot down all Mr. Keene’s fine ideas.

Thankfully for us all, author Sharon Creech prominently features another character in A Fine, Fine School. Tilly is a student at Fine Elementary. She has a younger brother and a dog named Beans who do not go to school. With all Tilly’s time spent in school, there is less time to be with her brother and Beans. It is up to Tilly to help Mr. Keene see things from another perspective.

This book always entertains students. They can all connect to the subject. They can all imagine being Tilly’s classmates. And, yes, they can easily imagine me implementing Mr. Keene’s ideas. After all, I do go on and on about the wonderful students and teachers at my school.

Sharon Creech has come up with a golden story. The illustrations by Harry Bliss add to the humor. Indeed, this picture book is a terrific example of how the pictures don’t just illustrate the words; they add to the story. Here, Bliss provides visual details, from the attention grabbing Post-its on Tilly’s backpack on the cover (e.g., “MASSIVE TEST ON YOUR BIRTHDAY”; “GYM TEST TODAY”) to the antics of children on the bus and in the classroom. The dog, Beans, is a scene stealer wherever he appears. Call attention to the extras in the first drawings and students will eagerly act as picture detectives for the rest of the book, eagerly pointing out and laughing at their discoveries.

I am sure every reviewer makes the obvious statement: This is a fine, fine book. However, that undersells it. This book is one of my personal treasures. The sentiment is one that I hope to honestly convey at every school where I work.

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