I don’t think THE SECRET LIFE OF MS. FINKLEMAN (by Ben Winters) is a book I would have normally picked up on my own. I’m subbing for a friend for his young creative writing class and this is the book his students are reading.
I’m definitely guilty sometimes of judging a book by its cover and title. I thought this was going to be too cheesy for my tastes, but I was pleasantly surprised.
The “secret” of Ms. Finkleman took me by such surprise that I’m not even going to tell you what her secret is, because I don’t want to spoil it. As a matter of fact, don’t read the jacket flap if you pick up the book, b/c I think it gives too much away.
Bethesda Fielding’s sadistic history teacher gives her class a “special project” to solve a mystery in their lives. Bethesda decides to dig up some information on her reclusive music teacher. When she does, this information changes the way everyone at the school views this teacher. What follows is a sweet and funny story that touches on the effects of secrets and lies as well as showing that there are more to people than we often think.
Almost every character is changed from the experience in a positive way, and this is done in a satisfying way, not overly sweet and syrupy like an after school special.
It’s not a deep book by any means. I could see Nickelodeon turning it into a fun TV movie. The lessons are obvious, but not bopped over our heads.
Another thing I enjoyed about it, and could see as great classroom material, is that although it’s an easy read, the author peppers the story with great vocabulary words, particularly from their history teacher’s mouth, as he loves to use words they don’t understand. His motivation seems to be to confound them, however, not to teach them anything.
The book is also filled with references to rock music from the 60’s, 80’s, and 90’s. I doubt any 10-year-olds have even heard of the bands mentioned, but this could be a fun way to supplement the reading (and get your students to think you’re really cool for playing rock music in class).
For kids who may not be interested in speculative fiction (and they’re out there), this might be a good choice.
Ben Winters is also the author of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS and ANDROID KARENINA
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