When I first heard about and saw Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald sitting on the shelf in one of my favorite local book shops, I picked it up by two fingers nose wrinkled lips pursed in disgust. Having one of my goals during my career being to bring the right book to the right reader at the right time, I was apprehensive about a book that for all practical purposes proposed to do the exact opposite.
So begins Part One, How To Not Read. Told entirely from Charlie’s point of view we are privy to the inner musings of a middle school student who will do absolutely anything to not read. In a conversational manner, as if we the readers are a friend walking the halls of school, he relates his history of not reading, the schemes (which with predictable frequency backfire) he devises to maintain his reputation as a non-reader and how he navigates through a year of school, parents and teachers.
I dare anyone to not laugh out loud at his humorous asides:
I knew something was wrong right when I got home, when I walked in the door and Moose and Coco didn’t run up to greet me as if I was the only human being in the world that had ever existed.
The thing about dogs is, they pretty much reflect the mood in the house. If someone’s sad, they’re sad. If someone’s happy, they’re happy. And if someone’s mad, which happened to be the case in this particular instance, they hide.
You know the expression “read it and weep?"
Whoever came up with that is a genius.
His story is told in seven parts in short breezy, hilarious chapters with Charlie Joe’s numbered Tips placed in appropriate points throughout the book written on notebook paper.
Charlie Joe’s Tip #5
IF ANYONE-LIKE, SAY, A PARENT-EVER YELLS AT YOU FOR NOT READING, JUST POINT OUT TO THEM ALL THE MANY WAYS YOU DO READ.
1. Web site
2. Instant messages
4. Video game instructions
5. Sports scores
7. The viewer’s guide on the TV
8. The back of the cereal box
10. Supermarket coupons
11. Road signs
On another tip page he readily admits there are some books he likes such as checkbooks or Facebook, naming two of the four.
As the chapters progress Charlie’s writing subtly changes; without readers knowing it they are turning the pages in what is more of a “book” book than a commentary by a middle school student who is offering them the inside scoop on how to not read. But right to the end he is pure Charlie Joe Jackson, middle school student one hundred per cent, that they have come to understand.
I am a reader; in fact I can not remember not reading. But reading is viewed not only as a challenge better left not met but down right frightening by some. Charlie, Joe, and Jack are Tommy Greenwald’s non-reading sons. This title, Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide To Not Reading, was specifically written to entice them to read. Greenwald has seen right into the heart of a non-reader giving voice to just exactly what makes them tick. He has done so with humor, characters so realistic that they could be your neighbors, and a sense of the middle school scene that is uncanny.
I predict that readers and non-readers alike will be recommending this “guide” whenever they get the chance. And teachers, let me say this, don’t miss the chance to read this out loud in the classroom. Your students will love you for it. I’ll even go out on a limb and state that they will probably read it again on their own.
The illustrations of J. P. Coovert add to the comic laid-back feel of Charlie's story making it more personal.
Check out the link above to Greenwald's web site. Charlie Joe Jackson usually has something to say that will strike the right chord.