Title: The View from Saturday
Author: E.L. Konigsburg
Publisher: Antheum Books
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age Level: 4th-8th Grade
Mrs. Olinski couldn't tell you why she chose the four students she did for her Academic Bowl team, but Noah, Ethan, Nadia, and Julian were it. As far as she knew they were not really connected to each other in any way. But it turns out that they were-they called themselves the Souls, and every Saturday they met for tea. And that wasn't their only connection-Noah was accidentally the Best Man at the wedding of Ethan's grandmother and Nadia's grandfather, Nadia and Ethan had bonded over saving sea turtles in Florida, and Julian started their group off with his invitation to tea. The book traces their stories, as well as their journey to the state championships, in a fun, slightly quirky way.
OK, I want to say upfront that I enjoyed this book. I thought the story was creative, and I enjoyed the quirkiness of each of the characters. However, it won the Newbery Award in 1997, and I have to admit I don't really get it. I guess that 1996 must have been a slow year for quality children's literature, because I didn't find the story nearly as good as, say, The Graveyard Book or Holes or The Giver.
That said, the story is cute, and the themes of random acts of anonymous kindness is a good one. The Souls go out of their way to do nice things for their teacher, without expecting anything in return. They also allow each other to be themselves when they are together, and they keep their tea parties a secret so that no one at school actually knows how close they are. The secondary themes of dealing with major life changes (divorce, marriage, family moving away) are dealt with honestly and sweetly. Each of the characters is a child I would like to have in my class-kind, smart, and compassionate. And of course, friendship is also a major theme. The Souls are bonded in a way that few people are, and completely supportive of each other.
The writing style is superb, as it always is with Konigsburg. I especially like the way she uses questions from the Academic Bowl as the frame for telling the story of how the Souls got to know each other. The books is a cleverly put together combination of present action and flashback that could make a good talking point if teaching the book as literature.
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