War & Watermelon

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately. The only thing I can blame is the end-of-year craziness that comes with working in a public school library. Two weeks ago, we had PASS testing (and don’t get me started on standardized tests). Last week, my library had our third book fair of the year. (We raised around $4,000, but my clerk and I are exhausted.) While that was going on, the library remained open for the last week of checkout for the school year. Today, about 9 million books were returned…which now have to be shelved. So, when I get home in the evenings, what little time I do have that’s not devoted to housework, paying bills, or that most heinous of chores–mowing the lawn–goes to doing absolutely nothing. My desire to read has been almost nil, but I have hopes that things are turning around…

Yesterday, I read a book that a student brought to me. The book is Rich Wallace’s War & Watermelon, and one of my fourth graders brought it to my attention. She read it and came to the conclusion that it didn’t belong in an elementary library. Well, of course, I had to read it after that. This student is not one to go crazy over every little thing, so I really took her concerns seriously. (Not that I don’t take all other concerns seriously, but you know how people are. Some get their knickers in a bunch over nothing. This girl isn’t like that.) After reading the book, I have to agree with my student. War & Watermelon is not a book for an elementary school library…but it is a great addition to any middle or high school collection.

War & Watermelon takes place in the summer of 1969, and it explores what life was like for one almost thirteen-year-old boy during this time. Brody is a pretty typical kid. He likes football, he’s starting to be interested in girls, and he’s dealing with drama at home. Typical stuff, right? Well, kind of. This is also the summer of ’69. (Cue Bryan Adams music.) The Mets are winning, man just landed on the moon, the U.S. is at war in Vietnam, and Woodstock is about to hit New York. It’s a lot for a kid to take in, especially when his brother’s about to turn eighteen and become eligible for the draft. Tensions are high at home and everywhere else, and Brody often doesn’t know which way to turn. No matter what happens, though, this will be a summer that Brody will never forget.

War & Watermelon sort of fills in a gap in some historical fiction collections, but I really don’t think it’s a good fit for my school library. Elementary school kids probably wouldn’t understand some of the humor, and they probably shouldn’t understand some of the drug references. (Notice I said shouldn’t.) The main character does go to Woodstock, and many young readers (and their parents) might focus a little too much on the nudity and drug use present at the music festival instead of the message of peace it was intended to be.

I’ll be passing this book on to a local middle school, and I hope that students there will enjoy it. I just don’t think my kids are ready for this book. Do with that what you will.

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