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Acting Out

Review

Acting Out

Editor Justin Chanda entreated six Newbery Award-winning authors to write one-act plays for this collection. Avi, Susan Cooper, Sharon Creech, Patricia MacLachlan, Katherine Paterson and Richard Peck each chose one word for all the writers to include in their plays. Those special words (dollop, hoodwink, Justin, knuckleball, panhandle and raven) are fun to search for, all the better to admire the unique way each playwright incorporated them into his or her play.

The setup of the first play, "The Bad Room" by Patricia MacLachlan, is a bit reminiscent of the movie The Breakfast Club. Several kids (and one dog) get in trouble in school and wind up in detention, also known as "The Bad Room." The good-natured detention teacher, Ms. Brim, causes a bit of a ruckus when she renames it "The Ballroom" and informs the inmates they can either write essays and work math problems…or learn to dance.

Sharon Creech gives us a comedy called "The Raven," in which 12-year-old author Edgar Allan Poe gets some lessons in book publishing by hip young editor Trish. She lets him know that his manuscript, "The Raven," needs just a few tweaks before she'll consider making him an offer to buy and publish it. For example, the two-word title is unacceptable, and then there's the matter of it actually being a poem, which will not do.

An incredibly wealthy man named Mr. Pombar is an unhappy hypochondriac in the hilarious yet moving "The Billionaire and the Bird," written by Katherine Paterson. There's just one thing that makes him weep with joy, and that's a little brown bird's song. Can he use his wealth to listen to the birdsong whenever he wants?

Children mourn the demise of their play area --- especially a fine climbing tree --- when developers begin to build houses on it, in Susan Cooper's "The Dollop." The Dollop is an intriguing character (the author suggests it may take up to 20 actors joined together to play it!), but even more compelling is the action the kids brainstorm as a solution to their problem. The audience is urged to join in, making "The Dollop" interactive and thought provoking.

Richard Peck's "Effigy in the Outhouse" is a schoolhouse yarn set in 1901. When the students expect a new teacher, Willard and his friends go all out to challenge her. The boys consider it their duty to "weed out" the fragile teachers, and their elaborate schemes include a fake man in the girls' outhouse. But the joke is on them when an imposing interim teacher named Miss Delilah Dollop shows up --- and even more so when the final twist is revealed.

Avi heralds the mighty power of the imagination in the whimsical "Not Seeing is Believing." Julian and Ruby's mother reads them a bedtime story about monsters, princesses and princes. When they point out that the tale has nothing to do with reality, their mother suggests they must use their mind to see what isn't there. Although they scoff, Julian and Ruby soon see (or don't see) something that changes their minds.

Any of these selections may well inspire readers to produce (or write) one of their own plays. Even if that doesn't happen, these quick tales are a pleasure to read, as is the "Who's Who in the Cast" feature, which tells a bit about each playwright. We even find out just why they chose their particular word to be included in each play (the story of Richard Peck's word is particularly amusing).

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on June 22, 2010

Acting Out
by Avi , Susan Cooper, Sharon Creech, Patricia MacLachlan, Katherine Paterson, and Richard Peck

  • Publication Date: June 22, 2010
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1416938494
  • ISBN-13: 9781416938491