Not all Andrew Clements novels are created equal, and that’s a fact. I mean, don’t get me wrong. This is true of most children’s authors. But sometimes I feel that with Clements, he’s always readable. Even if you feel that one book of his is better than another, that doesn’t mean that kids aren’t going to read them all equally like mad. I maintain the paperback fiction portion of the children’s room in which I work, so I’ve seen firsthand the levels of sheer maniacal energy that go into keeping that area stocked. Turn around for two seconds and FOOM! There go all your copies of Frindle, The Landry News, and Lunch Money. And while I’ve always kind of enjoyed Clements, none of his books really struck me as something I would have liked to have read when I was a kid. Then I picked up “No Talking”. Oh brother, oh sister, oh me, oh my. This. Book. Is. Great. Yes, it has a little bit of learning. A teensy bit of a moral stuffed in there. But to me, this is Clements at the top of his game. Tapping into the essential rivalries that exist between boys and girls, this book is just pure fun and that’s a fact. A must read for Clements fans and an enjoyable jaunt for the rest of us.
Let me tell you a little something about the fifth-graders of Laketon Elementary. The teachers there call them The Unshushables for a reason. These kids are the loudest group to cross the threshold of Laketon in years. They also happen to be a bit immature in the whole boys and girls area of things. Where other kids might be growing up at this stage and toning down the gender rivalries, this group is led by two leaders. You’ve Dave on the boys’ side and Lynsey on the girls. But when a dare breaks out between the two as to whether or not the boys or the girls can keep from talking the most over the course of two days, neither side is prepared for the consequences. With rules firmly in place, the kids begin their contest only to find that it has inadvertently raised the ire of their normally competent principal. Now the kids will join together to face a common enemy in the quietest manner possible.
The moral of the story would make it pretty ideal for bookgroups discussions. The principal’s opinion on everything is summed up nicely in Chapter 15. “These children need to learn to be quiet when it’s right to be quiet, and they need to talk and participate at the right times too.” This isn’t a rigid stance until the kids stop talking en masse (something I’m sure educators countrywide would love to encourage) and of their own volition. Suddenly, the idea of silence as a weapon comes to mind. The principal trying to make kids talk becomes the kid-friendly equivalent of the old villainous statement, “We have way of MAKING you talk.” So when authority figures tell you that you have to talk and be silent only when they say so, isn’t that an untenable situation? It’s worthy of further thought.
I’ve maintained for years that the best children’s authors are the ones who can finesse different forms of writing seamlessly into a fictional narrative for the young. Clements is a perfect example of this. First of all, his writing is… I hesitate to use the word “pure” but it’s just so straightforward. Accessible, amusing, and without ever feeling forced or unnatural. Then, on top of that, “No Talking” utilizes flashbacks, at the beginning of the story, beautifully. And as with Frindle or some of Clements’ other works, “No Talking” boils down to kids versus adults. That’s a popular topic right there. Then it adds in the boys versus girls element, which never goes out of style. Finally, it tops the whole shebang off with a contest with a set series of rules and regulations. The kids may speak in class when called upon to do so, but they can only speak three words at a time. They cannot speak at home and will use the honor system to keep track of their own foibles. Then Clements works in all the situations in which a person really needs to speak, and the book just gets more and more fun.
I was intrigued by the illustrations provided by a Mr. Mark Elliott. To my mind, illustrators of children’s novels never get enough credit. Mr. Elliott’s name, by rights, should appear on the front of this book. That’s just not how things are done, but I wish publishers would reconsider. And Elliott in particular has a kind of classic feel to him. You go through his images and you’re reminded of Paul O. Zelinsky’s work on books like Dear Mr. Henshaw. The pictures here are done in graphite with clear outlines and gentle shading inside. I’m a fan of realism as it is, and this book shows that Elliott is an artist worth keeping an eye on.
You know, there are some children’s books I read where writing their review requires hours, literally hours, of hair pulling and groans on my part. Where every sentence I plunk down feels forced. And then there are books like “No Talking” that are just a joy to speak (ha ha) about. I think it’s safe to say that this is my favorite Andrew Clements novel, case closed. Also, with its boys vs. girls mentality, this book would pair beautifully with this year’s other great kid-friendly (and fellow favorite) read, The Lemonade War. Consider these two to be the sheer-fire crowd pleasers you absolutely must stock on your library shelves.
On sale now.
Notes on the Cover: It’s interesting to me that even as Simon & Schuster has started to change their paperback covers of books like Frindle from the Selznick image to a new one, newer Clements books like “No Talking” are looking mighty similar to Clements’ earlier Selznickian works. This one plays up the fact that there are both boys and girls in this book, a fact that is probably partly responsible for the author’s meteoric rise to success. Get both genders involved and suddenly you’re marketing potential doubles. The colors are nice. The image good. The title prominent. I can find no flaw with this cover.
First Lines: “Dave Packer was in the middle of his fourth hour of not talking.”