________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 20. . . . June 6, 2003

cover Why Did the Underwear Cross the Road?

Gordon Korman.
Markham, ON: Scholastic Canada, 1994/2002.
110 pp., pbk., $6.99.
ISBN 0-439-97445-3.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4


The big bulletin board was put up in the fourth-grade classroom. Mr. Carter went through all the groups, tallying up good deed points. ...

"So Groups 1 and 3 are in first place with four points , with Group 6 close behind with three. A very solid start."

There was a knock at the door, and Mr. Ortiz, the principal, entered.

"Boys and girls, I have an announcement to make about the contest. Now, pay attention, because this is important. When you do a good deed for someone, always make sure that person wants your help. I've had a complaint from Mrs. Milarchuk. She said three of our students tried to force her across the road when she didn't want to go. And by the end of it, her suitcase was hit by a car!"

"That's totally untrue!" piped Margaret. "It was a cement truck!"

"The Z's did it!" came a stage whisper from Byron.

"Zzzzz," buzzed the class.

Fourth-graders Justin Zuckerdorf, Jessica Zander, and Margaret Zachary had only one thing in common: their surnames all began with the letter Z. This situation meant that whenever their teacher counted his class off in threes, they ended up in the same group. This was a bit hard on the two girls because Justin was an Idea Man, meaning that almost any project they undertook was fairly certain to end in disaster. Earning points for doing good deeds sounded safe enough, but even there Justin's ideas managed to earn them a score of minus twenty-five when there were only two days to go until the end of the competition. Their chance of winning the coveted prize of a trip to Tidal Wave Fun Park seemed to be nil. Then, of course, one of Justin's ideas suddenly and gloriously paid off, and the Zs won after all---and all because the underwear crossed the road!

     I may as well admit right away that I am not a great fan of Gordon Korman's laugh-a minute style. As one silly situation follows on the heels of another, with a very improbable storyline forming a tenuous connection between them, I find myself getting more and more impatient, and less and less amused. That having been said, however, this story at least does come up with funny ideas, and ten-year-olds are unlikely to be too critical of shallow characters (caricatures, really) and unlikely scenarios. Personally I cannot, for example, imagine a teacher always assigning his students to the same groups for project after project, especially disastrous project after disastrous project. Probably any kid could produce instances---perhaps apocryphal---of such persecutions by unpleasant grown-ups, however. Mine is an adult point of view; this is a kids' novel; and they will love it.

     By the way, would you like to know why the underwear did cross the road, other than because it was hit by a cement truck, as related in the excerpt above? I am not going to tell you, but I will say that it was not to get to the other side. Also the underwear in question was not a pair of boy's Y-fronts, no matter what the picture on the front cover appears to suggest.


Mary Thomas is at present on leave from her job in libraries in elementary schools in Winnipeg, MB, and observing the Harry Potter fever rising in Oxford, England, as the date of the release of book #5 comes closer.


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ISSN 1201-9364