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Home > Reading Comprehension > book reviews > Yolanda's Genius

Book Review: Yolanda's 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 and well-described.

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 all females.

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 its content.)





























More Comments::

  • 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.


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