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Schooled by Gordon Korman

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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Cover art for Schooled by Gordon Korman Hyperion Books

Introduction

If anyone can turn a bully campaign into a love fest, it’s 13-year-old Capricorn (Cap) Anderson. In Gordon Korman’s middle grade comedy Schooled, a young boy sheltered from the real world and raised by his hippie grandmother suddenly finds himself dropped into the crowded halls of a public school where he becomes an oblivious target for eighth grade humiliation.

Story Line of Schooled

Cap Anderson’s world is full of Beatles music, simple living, and homeschool lessons from his grandmother whom he calls Rain. Garland Farm, a secluded throwback to a 1960s commune, is the only home Cap has ever known.

Blissfully unaware of the brutal junior high world awaiting him, Cap’s education, centered on peace and harmony, is suddenly disrupted when Rain falls from a tree while picking plums. Against Rain’s outraged protests, Cap is immediately sent to live with a foster guidance counselor named Mrs. Donnelly and her ultra-gorgeous, yet full of teen angst, daughter Sophie.

Swept up in the busy, chaos-filled halls of middle school, Cap stands out with his long, blonde, flyaway hair, homemade clothes, and cornhusk sandals. He’s clueless about bullies, cliques, and middle school codes of conduct, which makes him an easy target for Zach Powers the school bully. While Cap is trying to figure the meaning of tween jargon, such as wedgie and spitball, Zach hatches what he feels is his most diabolical plan ever.

Among Claverage (nicknamed C Averge) Middle School’s eighth grade students it's the tradition to elect the student most likely to be a loser as class president. Being elected is hardly prestigious. Everyone makes a fool of the newly elected president while trying to run him out of the school.

With Cap’s sudden arrival, Zach believes he’s found his dream candidate and begins to take advantage of the homeschooled teen’s slow reactions and lack of social knowledge. Commenting on Cap’s inability to adjust to public school, Assistant Principal Kasigi tells Mrs. Donnelly that Cap is “like a space traveler who just landed on Earth and left his guidebook on the home world!”

Meanwhile, relying solely on the values he’s been taught by Rain, Cap doesn’t hesitate to act based on his conscience.  Cap's is following his conscience when he drives the school bus after the bus driver is seized by a heart attack and when he uses school checks to donate large sums to a variety of charities. He insists on learning all the names of his peers and assigns jobs to students to help him organize the school’s annual Halloween Dance, turning a potentially disastrous debacle into a fully functioning event.

In a landslide win, Cap is elected eighth grade president. However, Zach’s bully campaign begins to backfire when Cap unconsciously impacts the students who once laughed at him. His mellow, even keeled, non-violent manner begins to bring out the more sensitive side of students.

Instead of teasing Cap about his daily tai chi morning routine on the school lawn, students are coming in droves to participate in the morning meditation. Instead of making Cap the laughingstock of the art class, Zach watches in horror as students are lining up to create their own tie-dyed t-shirts. In a moment of desperation to preserve his pride and his reputation, Zach hatches a final epic plan that will alter the future of Claverage Middle School.

In a climactic comedic style, a series of misunderstandings brings all the characters center stage in an event that would rival any 1960s love fest and will finally put to rest the rumor surrounding Cap’s mysterious “disappearance.”

Bullying Message: Middle School Mayhem

Although Schooled is full of comedic moments and resolves itself in a surprisingly satisfying manner, readers are compelled to think about the serious issue of bullying.

Bullying, as Sophie points out, is a tradition at Claverage Middle School as each year one student is elected to be the “village idiot” disguised as class president. When Sophie’s mother, Mrs. Donnelly the guidance counselor, learns the awful truth leading to Cap’s becoming eighth grade president Sophie responds by saying, “What’s really awful is you’re a social worker-with power over kids’ lives-and you have no clue about what’s common knowledge at that school”.

Through comedic misunderstandings and slapstick humor, Korman strives to remove the blinders many people are wearing regarding the bully campaigns going on daily in public schools. In a light-hearted, humorous tone, Korman puts forth the idea that peaceful, nonviolent methods are one way of beating a bully.

Author Gordon Korman

Gordon Korman is a familiar name in the world of children’s books. Born in Montreal, Canada on October 23, 1963, Korman grew up attending public school, playing hockey and reading lots of books. As a child he loved the Great Brain series and enjoyed reading books by Robert Corimer and Kurt Vonnegut.

Korman has written more than 55 books for young readers including two of the volumes of the wildly popular The 39 Clues adventure series. Currently, Korman lives in Long Island, New York with his wife and three children and is working on a new children’s series entitled On the Run.

(Source: Gordon Korman’s Web site)

My Recommendation

Schooled is written in the traditional silly humor of middle grade books: characters with exaggerated quirks that make them all loveable and laughable.

From the endearingly innocent Cap to the bungling bully Zach, Korman’s created a cast of zany characters with whom readers can engage. In chapters that burst with energy, quick dialogue, and multiple points of view, the story of the homeschooled boy versus a long standing tradition of middle school bullying is told with humor and a message.

Easily incorporating some of the comedic elements of middle school humor (goofy cafeteria and bathroom antics), Korman captures a tone and writing style embraced by middle grade readers. These readers identify with the challenges of middle school, which include the struggle for peer acceptance, the search for identity, and the ever-present issue of bullying. Korman zeroes in on these and manages to wrap his story and message in a humorous style that is both lighthearted, tender, and contemplative, all at once bringing the story to a satisfying and serendipitous end.

Schooled could be easily slotted into the category of funny books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but it’s also a smart book that offers a bit more to readers by providing them an opportunity to think about the serious issue of bullying. This is a classic, easy book to read that I highly recommend to readers aged 9-14. (Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group, 2007. ISBN: 9781423105169)

More Resources From Your Guide Elizabeth Kennedy

The Skinny on Bullying is a good middle grade nonfiction book about bullying. For more information, read Bullying in the Early Teen Years - What You Need to Know, Types of Bullying and other resources on the About.com Bullying site.

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