The Alcatraz Conversations

I’m afraid I’ve waited a bit too long to write about the discussions that the 5th and 6th grade book groups had about Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson, and the details of the discussions have been lost in the haze of a couple of weeks of other book groups and lots of storytimes.  But I do want to mention in general that, surprisingly, the kids agreed with me.

In my previous post about this book, I confessed that I pretty much hate this book.  To quote myself, “It’s all a little too cute, too self-conscious, too adult – it’s impossible to get lost in the story, because the narrator keeps butting in with comments about the book or himself.  And the narrator, Alcatraz, is supposed to be a thirteen year old boy, but his rants and complaints sound more like a forty year old cranky grownup.”  There’s a sense that Sanderson is glorying in his own wit, celebrating how much smarter and funnier he is than his readers, and that really rubbed me the wrong way.

The 5th graders discussed the book first, and except for an initial whispered agreement with one girl who started off the discussion by saying that she hated the book, other than that I kept my mouth shut for twenty minutes or so and listened to them half-heartedly talk about the characters and the plot.  Finally, though, I mentioned that I hated the intrusiveness of the narrator, and the whole book group, in unison, said, “I HATED that!!!!”  Turns out the kids were as put off by the wise-aleck narrator as I was, and they spent the rest of the book group talking about how annoying the writing style was to them.  And in the next week’s book group discussion, the 6th graders didn’t wait for me to bring up the topic of the narrator, nor did they find much at all to love about the book.  One 6th grader had read several of the sequels, but she didn’t want to commit to being a “fan” of the series.

So it’s true – sometimes the kids and I do have the same opinion about a book.  Many times I’m far harsher on a book than the kids are, but in this case I think the kids were actually harsher than I.  I respect that the author was trying something new, edgy, and different, because there is too much “safe” children’s literature these days.  But I’m glad that the kids in the book groups could clearly articulate their thoughts and criticisms of this book, and I think they gained a new perspective on literature as a whole through their discussions.