This is what living in a small town is like: your widowed grandfather has just married your new classmate’s widowed grandmother, and another new classmate was best man at this wedding. In Florida. Even though your class is in upstate New York. You are Nadia, and your classmates are Ethan (the grandson) and Noah (the best man).
Konigsburg’s Newbery Award winning novel is only tangentially about small town life, but I wanted to show how these characters are connected at multiple levels — the same town, school and teacher, overlapping families — and a shared experience of loneliness and outsider-hood.
Then, two things happen. 1) Their teacher, Mrs. Olinsky, decides to form a 6th-grade team for the local Academic Bowl, and 2) the three are invited to afternoon tea at the new B&B, owned by Mr Singh, whose son, Julian, is also a classmate. The book can be divided into 5 sections — one in each of the four children’s voices, and then a final one taking us through the Academic Bowl competitions to the finals.
How Mrs. Olinsky chooses these four as her team is this book’s story, but it’s also much more. Julian is from India and subjected to teasing and bullying; Mrs. Olinsky is a paraplegic and subjected to disrespect (6th graders aren’t what they used to be); Nadia resents Ethan’s family barging into her own through the grandparents’ marriage; Ethan suffers from comparison with his accomplished older brother.
We watch the team gel, while getting the stories behind how they know the answers to the Bowl questions. It’s a good lesson in the value of paying attention. Everything that happens around you is information about the world. Remember it.
Newbery Fun Fact: Of the 92 winning novels, 61 were written by women and 31 by men. That’s almost a 2:1 ratio.