> Reading Comprehension
book reviews > Yolanda's Genius
Genius, by Carol Fenner
Title, Author & Publisher:Yolanda's
Genius, by Carol Fenner (Simon & Schuster, 1995)
Length: 208 pages without
illustrations - a bit on the long side.
Print size: The usual
'big kid's book' size.
Other readability issues:
The book is written in the third person. Most of the time
it's from Yolanda's perspective, but it will occasionally
switch and spend time in the minds of other characters, whether
they are Yolanda's brother Andrew, or the skateboarder who
enjoys his music. The book is not a 'fast read' - Fenner's
choices of words and phrases are often surprising, and visual
images will be framed in descriptions of sounds and vice versa.
It will be frustrating for students who are looking for a
fast, action-packed read.
This book would be a good read-aloud. Many scenes need to
be imagined - sights and sounds - to be appreciated, and many
novice readers may need encouragement in doing this as they
read. Countless scenes lend themselves to being drawn (possibly
with 'thought balloons' over a character's head to describe
what he's thinking), so this book gives a chance for budding
artists to shine. There is much to offer budding writers in
her specific choices of words -- why does she say "hoisted"
instead of "picked up?" How we use words to express
nonverbal ideas - our attitudes & emotions, etc. -- is
another possible exploration with an abundance of examples
to work from.
Carol Fenner is constantly describing one sensory experience
in terms of something else - a kind of creative expressioin
worth exploring with students.
That night, in his bed, Andrew blew gently into his pipe,
muted sounds -- Yolanda's proud head on it's strong, smooth
neck. But that needed drums behind it. He thumped with his
foot on the bedstead. Better. He played Yolanda's knees
and the sway of her body over them. He tried playing Yolanda's
smile, sweet and swelling wide open, on his little pipe.
He paused and thought.
Maybe his harmonica? Or both together. A viollin? He'd never
deeded another instrument before. He wised for someone to
play with him and, right then, he knew he'd have to learn
how to make the black marks of the music code so that someone
else, too, could play the sounds he heard in his head.
This lends itself to activities such as drawing or describing
what students 'see' when they hear a piece of instrumental
music, making or describing music to express what they see,
etc. They may notice that emotions are involved in the interpretations,
as they clearly are in Andrew's playing. Also, there are many
times when people don't understand what Andrew is trying to
say; getting his mother to understand the importance of his
music is an important but subtle conflict in the book.
The plot is linear and the characters fairly straightforward
Defining theconflict -- there are several conflicts
in the book. Yolanda is learning to make friends, and isn't
very good at it; she struggles with her insecurities throughout.
A lot of social skills discussion could be derived from many
scenes. Yolanda's adjustment to her new home & school
present fairly obvious conflicts; her struggle and Andrew's
to get people to understand his 'genius' and help him find
a way to connect with the world is a more subtle one, but
most of the book revolves around it.
A good book for middle or high-schoolers, this has more"people"
than "action" issues, and the main characters are
Summary: The back of
the book says it well:
Yolanda is smart, tough, and big for her age. Back in Chicago
where she used to live, everyone knew better than to mess
with her or her little brother, Andrew. Andrew doesn't talk
much and he can't read, but he can create unbelievable music
on the old harmonica their father left him.
When Yolanda reads the definition of "genius"
in the dictionary, she knows it describes Andrew, and she's
determined to convince the world, and especially their mother,
of Andrew's gift. Then one day when Yolanda's back is turned,
the unthinkable happens, and the music stops.; Now Yolanda's
mission is more important than ever. How can she open people's
eyes to Andrew's talent and help him find the music again?
Typical words: Typical
multisyllable/irregular words - you may want to see how many
of these words your students can identify before expecting
them to read independently (I recommend that the book be read
with the students, as the vocabulary is varied and it's style
is probably very different than what they are used to and
there are so many opportunities for further exploration of
This book really lends itself to descriptive writing
or drawing exercises - but more challenging than the scenes
in a book like Make Lemonade because sounds and
sights are intertwined and the vocabulary is more advanced,
while being more precise.
Social skills are also an important sub-issue in this
book -- Yolanda is constantly making social decisions,
good & bad, using her size and intelligence to her
advantage but often letting her defensiveness (some developed
by living in Chicago) interfere with developing real friends.
Andrew is certainly an exceptional child - as in "special
education." Yet he's also clearly gifted... but not
in a way that schools would call gifted. Another recurrent
theme is the sensitivity of some people to perceiving
his gifts, and the resistance of others, who only understand
"perfectly normal" kids. It's worth exploring
how Andrew's life would be without Yolanda, say, 3 years
down the line, and how many people have undiscovered gifts.