27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
So thoroughly had Charlie Joe convinced me to give up reading there were almost no future reviews. But in the end, I enjoyed Tommy Greenwald's book so much I guess I'll keep searching for another book that makes me laugh as hard.
This is how Charlie Joe Jackson greets us on page one:
If you're reading this book, you don't like reading.
In fact, you do whatever you can to avoid reading, and the fact that you're holding a book in your hand right now is kind of shocking.
From here, Charlie Joe goes on to warn us of the many dangers of reading, such as it makes us fat. In a way, this book is split into two books. One book is a conversation between us and Charlie about why reading sucks and what authors might do to improve it. The second book is the actual story, which is also fun.
Charlie's a likeable enough guy, though he narrates his story with impeccable skill, which is odd considering how much he hates to read:) He's a middle school boy in Eastport, who loves beetles, chocolate, and dogs. He's innovative in a Ferris Bueller kind of way (always likeable), he's considerate of other people (especially, shock, his big sister), and he's popular. It's been a long time since I read a book about a middle school protagonist who doesn't feel alienated from the rest of the population. Charlie's well liked and the "hottest" girl in his grade has a crush on him. It's refreshing to sometimes get to read from the perspective of the sort of character who's usually a jerk and/or villain in so many other books.
Greenwald takes great advantage of the fact that his protagonist is a first person narrator and this is one book I cannot imagine written any other way. Charlie Joe is written quite well in his scenes with other characters. His dialogue is natural enough and his actions appear to be genuinely motivated. But its in the asides and the chapters between the story when Charlie talks directly to the reader that Charlie's true self shines through. For example:
The librarian, Ms. Reedy, was an old friend of mine, even though she represented everything evil.
I actually made up a song for her a couple of years ago when I first saw her in action. "Hurricane Eliza comin' in, the hottest hurricane in town, you'll get blown away when Hurricane Eliza's comin' down." The tune I came up with is pretty catchy, but you can't hear it, because this is a book--another problem with books by the way.
Charlie Joe's quest is to avoid reading at all costs. His conflict is that he is required to research multiple books for a major report and presentation at school, which pretty well determines his grade. Charlie Joe wants to do well in school, but he wants to do it without reading. It's a good set up and the story that follows is fun and very funny. Greenwald expertly navigates the politics of middle school and delivers a good story well told. You can't ask for much more than that.
My favorite piece Charlie Joe Jackson's advice to reading boys is: If you have to read, read about girls. It helps you understand them better. The opposite applies for the ladies, and for the LBGT community, you read whatever you want. At any rate, this idea of getting the inside track on the girls was one of my main motivators to read at Charlie Joe's age and I think it will strike a nerve with reluctant readers. I've read Twilight and sat through at least one episode of True Blood trying to better understand Mrs. Ninja (my comprehension is a work in constant progress).
And that's going to do it. I shall leave you with some more of my favorite passages from Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading:
I've been head over heels for Hannah Spivero since... what's today, Saturday? Let's see... Wednesday... Thursday... Friday...
About seven years.
Middle-school parties are all pretty much the same; cold pizza, soggy cookies, flat soda, deafening music, a couple of kids kissing, a ton of kids pretending not to look but actually staring at the kids kissing, and the little sister of the host constantly coming in and out, supposedly to see if the chips bowl needs refilling, but really just to check out what was going on and report back to the parents that nobody had overdosed on potato chips and was projectile vomiting on the couch.
The place erupted. Chaos. Pandemonium. Anarchy. Bedlam. (Thesaurus.com--check it out.)
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
E. R. Bird
- Published on Amazon.com
The unreliable narrator. It's a staple of adult literature, and a relative newcomer to the world of children's lit. Even books for teens are more likely to sport these first person ne'er-do-wells than titles for the 9-12 set. It can be done mind you, but it's tricky territory, made all the trickier if the narrator is always being on the up and up with the reader. I think the closest you can usually get to an honest-to-goodness unreliable character is something like Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading. With a title that baffles child readers even as it intrigues them, author Tommy Greenwald conjures up a charming, befuddled hero who's steadfast refusal to pick up and enjoy a book leads him to illogical extremes and the ultimate punishment.
Let's be clear. Charlie Joe Jackson is a charming guy. If you met him you'd probably like him. Lots of people do, and why not? This is a kid who has figured out what it is he wants out of life and goes for it. Take reading. Charlie hates it. Couldn't dislike it more. So over the years he and his friend Timmy have set up a nice little arrangement. Timmy will read books for Charlie if in exchange he can get free ice cream sandwiches. Everything's going beautifully until the day Timmy destroys Charlie's sweet scheme. Caught, Charlie finds himself facing a huge school project with a ton of reading on the horizon. He has a plan to get out of it, but it hinges on setting up the girl of his dreams with the class nerd. Can Charlie keep himself from reading from here on in? And do we even want him to?
It hadn't occurred to me until I presented this book to a reading group I run for kids, but Charlie Joe Jackson may qualify as a notebook novel. Notebook novels are those books for kids that spring either directly or inadvertently out of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid craze. They look like notebooks/diaries/journals/etc. and contain eclectic combinations of art and text. Of course, there can be miscommunications. One kid I handed this to informed me that she didn't like "guides". She was under the impression, I guess, that this 224-page book was a step-by-step instructional tome on how not to pick up a book. Logic doesn't quite enter into that one, so I'll let it go. In any case, she was happy enough when she learned that rather than rote lists, there's an engaging story as well. The initial image of Charlie Joe as drawn by J.P. Coovert did a lot to help, I think. On the title page is Charlie Joe changing the title from a guide TO reading to a guide to NOT reading. They thought that was a stitch.
Ultimately, in terms of the storytelling what we're dealing with here is a tale about a long con gone wrong. This book has more in common with Chris Rylander's The Fourth Stall than your average kid-in-school fare. And because it's a con game tale there's an interesting balance throughout this book of Charlie Joe: Nice Guy VS. Charlie Joe: Cheater. What's interesting about his character is that even as he does wrong he's a nice guy. Likes his sister. Has a best friend who's a girl. Isn't into the super hot popular girl in his class because he likes someone else. He just sort of has this tendency to want to cheat on reading. No biggie, right? Kids might even come to see his side after reading his origin story. Inevitably the adult readers of this book might wonder if Charlie Joe has some form of dyslexia or other problem with words, but I don't think so. It seems clear that if the will is there, Charlie will read. He's just short of will.
Funny too, though funny books rarely get much credit. I at least was amused by advice like "Charlie Joe's Tip #2: Never read a book by someone whose name you can't pronounce" since it follows up that tip with the line "Let's face it: chances are you wouldn't be reading this book if it were called Venedkyt Styokierwski's Guide to Not Reading". Point. Though, thinking about it, Jon Scieszka would be out to sea too and I suspect that he's the kind of guy Charlie Joe could really dig. And the advice on how to look like a reader without being one is classic. I'm particularly fond of "Make your local library's website the homepage on your computer." That's classic.
It plays fair too. Kids can sniff out a false morality lesson a mile away, and if it rings untrue forget about it. They'll never forgive you. Without giving anything away, let me just say that the last page of this book is "Charlie Joe's Tip #25: When Finishing a Book Never Look at It Again". Heck, there's even a part earlier in the book where Charlie Joe acknowledges this classic book trope and rejects it outright. When forced to actually read he points out that at this point in the book he should technically have a change of heart. "I had discovered the joys of reading and storytelling and the characters spoke to me, and not only did I want to read more books, I wanted to move into the library." Instead, he tells the reader that while he's sure the book's author is a swell fella and his mom is proud of him, "no matter how nice a guy and how successful an author Ted Hauser is, I'm pretty sure that doesn't give him the right to ruin my life." Granted later in the book there is a moment when Charlie inadvertently finds himself applying something he read to a real life situation but it's really the reader, not Charlie himself, who becomes aware that reading may have a purpose beyond the occasional school assignment.
Reluctant readers, bane of the nation, are the target audience here. Will they like the book? Well, there's lots to be said for short chapters and a hero who's on their side. Pictures don't hurt matters much either. Greenwald could have turned this into a preachy tract, saying something about how assigned reading in schools sucks the fun out of books and turns legions of children into non-readers every year. That's true and a good lesson but I appreciate that instead his non-reader comes by his non-reading honestly. Like a lot of kids, he just never took to it. All in all it's a great little book (and I say that in spite of Charlie Joe's rousing/baffling endorsement of The Giving Tree). This is definitely the book to hand those The Strange Case of Origami Yoda fans out there who are looking for more, and it'll probably satisfy non-non-readers as well. Book haters of the world, your spokesman is here.
For ages 9-12.