Monday, February 15, 2010
Middle Grade Mondays: THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS
Author: Jacqueline Houtman
Publisher: Front Street Press
Grade Level: Ages 9 to 12 years
In selecting books for the 2010 Debut Author Reading Challenge hosted by The Story Siren (Kristi), I discovered Jacqueline Houtman’s THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS. Houtman’s debut novel is about Edison “Eddy” Thomas, a middle school student, who loves to tinker with inventions but struggles to understand innuendos of those around him. From this, I was fortunate enough to receive an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Edison Thomas to review.
The story opens with Eddy, as he prefers to be called, at his school’s science fair. Quickly, the reader learns that Eddy is not your typical middle schooler. He knows the scientific names of what seems like everything as well as recites the elements on the periodic table to calm himself. Each chapter also contains facts from the “Random Access Memory of Edison Thomas” which are unusual facts that connect in some manner with the chapter. The random facts were probably one of my favorite things in the book.
When Eddy comes in third in the Science Fair, he cannot imagine how he did not win first place. Even though his third place win has earned him a spot as an alternate to the Regional Science Fair, he is extremely disappointed. He was hoping to have a more secure spot in competing at the Regionals. Next day at school, Eddy discovers that the crossing guard for the elementary and middle school is losing his job due to budget cuts. This greatly upsets Eddy and he decides to apply his skills as an inventor to coming up with a way to alert cars to slow down thus preventing potential disasters.
As I read through the story of Eddy, I found myself really becoming quite enamored by this quirky student and his friends particularly Justin, an academically gifted student that befriends him. Houtman does a remarkable job at portraying Eddy, who likely has Asperger’s Syndrome though this is never specifically identified in the story. She captures Eddy’s struggle to understand facial expressions, deal with sensory information, and social situations. This is often showcased through both his misunderstanding of the actions of one of the popular students who seems to enjoy ridiculing Eddy, and in his lack of responses to the social initiations of several other students. The story has a satisfying ending as Eddy learns many lessons about friendship, standing up for himself, and even what he may have in common with Thomas Edison.
When I read a book that is intended for middle grade readers (grades 4th to 7th), I attempt to read the story in two ways. First, how will students in these grade levels receive the book. Who is the story geared for and will the specific audience be attracted to it? Next, I think about how the story may or may not be used in a classroom, or be a resource to parents and teachers. On the first point, I believe that students particularly on the upper age range of middle grade readers are the ones who will best relate to Eddy. This is in part due to the vast amount of scientific references and language in the story, and some younger readers may be overwhelmed by the vocabulary. However, since bullying and struggling with friendships is very much part of the school experience for most children, all readers will relate well to this element of the story. Second, as an adult reader and educator, I can see the story being used to discuss issues regarding social struggles, differences, and finding solutions to your problems.
The one thing that I was slightly disappointed in was that despite a beautiful job of describing Eddy’s learning issues, there were never any references to Asperger’s or Autism and that aside from the Coach at the school most of the adults, including his parents, seemed somewhat unaware of his unique learning needs. I recognize that I may be more sensitive to this than the average reader since I have worked for many years in a school where there are students who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (including Asperger’s) and may be comparing Eddy’s parents and school personnel to those that work with me on a regular basis.
All in all, I think this is an enjoyable debut novel by Jacqueline Houtman and I am very thankful for the opportunity to review the story and to become acquainted with Eddy and his friends. I look forward to sharing Eddy’s story with students and teachers as well.
Note: THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS is scheduled for release in March 2010; however, Amazon has it available for order and others are beginning to do the same.