CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 6. . . .November 7, 2008
Addison Addley and the Things That Aren't There. (Orca Young Readers).
Melody DeFields McMillan.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2008.
83 pp., pbk., $7.95.
Public speaking-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.
Review by Jonine Bergen.
I caught the last few words as I studied the eraser on my pencil. I wondered how many pieces I could chew off before it was even with the metal top. I like doing things like that. Experimenting with science and all. The world always needs new ideas. I like to help out. Once I even tried to invent my own paper shredder. I figured we had too many old bills lying around the house. Mom always cried when she looked at them. I taped a cheese grater onto the wheel of Mom's exercise bike; then I made paper airplanes out of the bills and threw them at the spokes while Sam pedaled. It sure clogged up the spokes of that old bike, but it didn't work very well as a shredder. I'll have to try that one again and have Sam pedal faster.
Addison Addley doesn't see the purpose of fractions - actually he doesn't see the need for most school subjects. After all, you don't need school to teach you how to fish or play video games. Unfortunately for Addison, he is going to learn that math is important for more than dividing up a pie and to write a good speech one needs to understand what one is talking about. Fortunately for the reader, Addison's lessons are packaged with wit, imagination and a slice of realism.
Addison knows he isn't as "school smart" as his name implies. He has, as he tells the reader, "more common sense than anybody I know, except for the guy at the gas station where I buy my worms. He's got to be pretty smart to make people pay for those slimy creatures. I'd probably make a great worm seller." In Addison Addley and the Things That Aren't There, Addison is going to prove he has all the skills needed to make a good worm seller by winning a the coveted speech trophy by writing a speech about nothing and helping his mom become treasurer of the local astronomy club with some interesting math skills and a secret punch recipe.
Addison, an optimistic procrastinator, decides to write his grade five speech on Things that Aren't There, or the long title, "Things that Are There But You Cant See Them" - like black holes and atoms. The problem is, he doesn't really want to do the research for his amazing topic. Luckily, his friend, Sam, is captivated by the idea and is willing to provide him with examples. Addison's interpretation of these examples contributes to a side-tickling climax.
Melody DeFields McMillan has aptly drawn on her teaching background to create a believable, imaginative boy who loves fishing and video games but is struggling with school. Her writing is well-paced and uncluttered, important considerations with chapter books for this reading level. Her word choice and descriptive language blend to create a pleasurable read-aloud story for the classroom. Indeed, the science and math topics that are touched on provide excellent springboards for class activities and discussions.
By allowing Addison to tell his own story, the author very effectively relies on Addison's humorous asides and kid-wise observations to provide colour and background to the narrative. Addison ably shows the reader who he and his family are while avoiding long passages of description and explanation. Further, while enjoying Addison's half-hearted search for information, the reader's interest may be caught by some of the information contained in the story. Who knows – the reader may even find a purpose for math.
I would like to see more of Addison. He has many of the characteristics of the typical struggling student and demonstrates some of the difficulties he faces with teasing, making wrong connections, and lack of focus. More importantly, Addison is likeable, interesting and honest. Young readers will be able to easily identify with him.
My guest reader, a 10-year-old girl, found the story hard to get into because the first chapter is Addison's rant about his name, school and the concept of "smart." But, after that, she said she really liked Addison and how his speech turned out. She also said she would not want to try Addison's punch; even though she didn't understand the difference between soy milk and soy sauce - a necessary understanding to appreciate the punch line at the party.
Addison Addley and the Things That Aren't There upholds the high standards of the "Orca Young Readers" series. As with most books in this series, it will make an excellent addition to a library. Addison will be enjoyed by young readers and well used by wise educators.
Jonine Bergen is a library technician at Westwood Junior High School in Winnipeg, MB.
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