Childrens’ Books of Note

K-12 Testing

Fans of Michael Winerip’s incisive education columns for The New York Times (and their kids) will love and laugh their way through his new novel for young adults, Adam Canfield of the Slash (Candlewick Press). Through the eyes of the book’s hero, Adam Canfield, star reporter and coeditor of the Slash student newspaper, Winerip sends up many familiar themes: the lunacy of the testing and test prep craze, overprogrammed childhoods, media conglomeration, and all-around adult hypocrisy and corruption.


Canfield and his student newspaper coeditor Jennifer struggle to maintain their integrity while uncovering a financial scandal, possibly involving their test-prep-happy principal. The young journalists learn that being ethical and exposing the truth often means angering powerful people or even risking the reputations and livelihood of decent sources. As the book progresses, time for muckraking becomes increasingly scarce, with ever more hours devoted to “before school/after-school voluntary/mandatory” test prep sessions. The suspense mounts as Adam and Jennifer race to gather evidence of the scandal before it’s too late.


If you’re looking for a holiday gift for a budding journalist, or an overprogrammed, test-prepped-to-death middle schooler, you can’t go wrong with Adam Canfield of the Slash.


For younger children, there’s Hooray for Diffendoofer Day (Alfred E. Knopf), Dr. Seuss’s posthumously published ode to creativity and individuality and against standardization. Writer Jack Prelutsky and illustrator Lane Smith have respectfully built on Seuss’s unfinished notes and sketches for a book about a zany teacher named Miss Bonkers. Miss Bonkers and her remarkable colleagues at Diffendoofer School know how to make learning fun and full of the unexpected.


The fun and learning looks like it will never end, until Principal Lowe informs the school that they must take a special test “to see who’s learning such and such—To see which school’s the best. If our small school does not do well, then it will be torn down, And you will have to go to school in dreary Flobbertown.” Needless to say, Flobbertown is a dark and nightmarish vision of narrow, joyless, drill-and-kill standardized schooling. The ending is perhaps disappointingly upbeat about the prospects for Diffendoofer maintaining its individuality in the face of the special tests, but nonetheless enjoyable.


Nora Rowley’s best friend Stephen feels like he isn’t good at school anymore. Ever since they took the Connecticut Mastery Test in fourth grade, the kids in her class have been sorting themselves into the smart kids, average kids and dumb kids. Rather than face the pressure, Stephen pretends to be sick so he can stay home from school. In Andrew Clements’ The Report Card (Simon & Schuster), Nora decides it’s time to do something about the tests that are making her friend sick. It’s time for a kids’ strike. 


Clements, author of the best seller, Frindle, has taken on school testing in a book that is sweet, engaging, perceptive, funny, inspiring and thought-provoking for fifth graders as well as adults.


• The Report Card was reviewed by George Sheridan, a California teacher