Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Year with Butch and Spike

Book: A Year With Butch and Spike
Author: Gail Gauthier
Published: 1998

Butch and Spike Coutre are the class cut-ups. Butch is more likely to draw all over his math homework than finish it, and Spike is more likely to ask questions in class than answer them. They drive the teachers nuts, but sixth-grade teacher Mrs. McNulty has a secret weapon. His name is Jasper.

Jasper's about as close as you can get to the perfect kid. He makes straight A's. His teachers love him. He doesn't give his parents any trouble. He figures in return for all this goodness, he deserves the best sixth-grade year any kid ever had. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen . . .

It's practically a cliche - good, sweet kid makes unlikely friends with the neighborhood bully and transforms him/her (let's not be sexist here; girls are worse bullies than boys sometimes) into a human being with feelings and everything. Frankly, that's what I was expecting when I picked up A Year with Butch and Spike. To my surprise, I found that the situation is almost perfectly reversed. Jasper is at first rigidly virtuous and scarily perfectionist. But as the year goes on, he learns to see the world through the non-comformist, curious-about-everything eyes of the Coutre cousins. He does his best to maintain his position as the kid who always does the right thing and follows the rules. But as his outlook changes, he begins to realize that there are more important things than living up to a perfect scholastic standard.

I really enjoyed this book. Spike and Butch, who aren't bullies but genuinely good-hearted kids, form an entertaining duo. Mrs. McNulty is the worst example of a teacher abusing her power over the kids in her class. But it's Jasper's transformation into an actual human being instead of a teacher/grades/achievement-controlled puppet that is most compelling.

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