Gordon Korman. Radio Fifth Grade. 1989; New York: Scholastic, 2010. Print.
If anyone is following this blog, the last few entries have been some pretty heady nonfiction works—brain function, infinity, education reform. I needed a break. Ah, who better to lighten the way than one of our favorite YA writers—Gordon Korman!
As is obvious from the title, Radio Fifth Grade has a slightly lower reading level than many Korman’s other titles which are geared more toward middle school or early high school. The content and style is not much different from his Swindle series, for example, but Radio Fifth Grade is a bit shorter. It is still a lot of fun.
The students at an elementary school in the city of Venice USA (the state is not specified) have been allowed half an hour of air time Saturday mornings on a local FM radio station. Benjy, Mark, and Ellen-Louise are the fifth grade producers of the show. Benjy idolizes a certain disk jockey whose autobiography he has practically memorized to become the host of the radio show. Mark does the physical labor, and Ellen-Louise is the teacher’s pet type who tries to keep the adults happy.
They get into some crazy situations on Saturday mornings for three main reasons. (1) Their classroom teacher suddenly leaves, and the new hire, Ms. Panagopolous, is fresh out of teachers’ college ready to get the kids to do a fifth grade seminar. (2) The school bully, a hulking sixth grader known as the Venice Menace, writes a totally lame story about two kittens who fight over a ball of yarn and gets to read it over the air (or else). (3) The show’s sponsor is local pet store whose grouchy owner is focused on the bottom line and wants to sell a talking macaw who only seems to want to say, “That parrot is a rip-off!”
I actually laughed out loud reading this book, something I do not do very often while reading. The story of the kittens Fuzzy and Puffy is so bad that it’s good. And the kids devise a plan to outsmart their teacher and get answers for the “seminar” homework, but they have to make sure that “Professor” Panagopolous does not listen to the show.
The kids are quite creative—not so much on the air, but in figuring out how to use the show to hoodwink their teacher and keeping the Menace from beating anyone up. Of course, it all begins to unravel. Technically, there are no break-ins in this story, but there are some other shenanigans that come pretty close.
Radio Fifth Grade will be great for nearly anyone from second or third grade on up to old-timers. Teachers should love the satire on their profession. Thank you, Mr. Korman, for keeping us smiling.
In case you are interested, other reviews here of books by Mr. Korman: