What would you do if you were a fifth grader facing a huge homework load every night, and you found out that there was a machine that would do all the work for you? (Do we even have to ask?) That's the situation presented to Sam, Kelsey, Judy and Brenton in Dan Gutman's entertaining new book for young readers, The Homework Machine.
The four children, all fifth graders in Miss Rasmussen's class at Grand Canyon School, are as different as any four 11-year-olds could be, but they have one thing in common—all are somewhat isolated from their peers. Sam's a newcomer and has had his share of school trouble before; Kelsey quietly carries her grief at losing her father; Judy's righteous sense of indignation constantly irritates others; and Brenton . . . well, he's another story entirely. Brenton is easily the smartest kid in school, so smart that even his parents and teachers have trouble keeping up with him. When Brenton and his three classmates are assigned to the same study group by their first-year teacher, the others discover that Brenton has created a time-saving gadget to do his homework for him. While the boy genius is perfectly capable of doing the homework himself, Sam, Kelsey and Judy could use the help.
Having perfect grades is something new for these three, and as they meet on a daily basis to "do homework," they find that they're learning a lot—about each other. Such a good thing can't last though, and when a mystery man starts trying to contact them, the kids start to get nervous. Soon there's an even scarier problem—why can't the Homework Machine be turned off?
Told in alternating voices (as all the participants make statements to the Grand Canyon Police), the story unfolds in intriguing fashion. Gutman is a talented writer with dozens of children's books to his credit, and his latest is a funny and thought-provoking tale that should appeal equally to boys and girls. Put it in your lesson plan.
James Neal Webb thinks adults dread helping with homework as much as children dread doing it. Copyright 2006 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2006 Fall
When Brenton, a decidedly uncool fifth-grader, programs his computer to do his homework, three other students happily use the program, too. The burden of keeping the machine secret, however, weighs heavily on this improbable group of friends. Although the story is enjoyable, the format--snippets from the police report as each child explains what happened--isn't always convincing. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2006 February #1
When fifth-graders Judy, Sam and Kelsey discover their classmate Brenton Damagatchi's homework machine, they think they are on to a good thing and begin to visit him regularly after school. Alphabetically seated at the same table, the brilliant Asian-American computer geek, hardworking, high-achieving African-American girl, troubled army brat and ditzy girl with pink hair would seem to have nothing in common. (They would also seem to be stereotypes, but young readers won't mind.) But they share an aversion to the time-consuming grind of after-school work. Their use of the machine doesn't lead to learning-as a surprise spring quiz demonstrates-but it does lead to new friendships and new interests. The events of their year are told chronologically in individual depositions to the police. In spite of the numerous voices, the story is easy to follow, and the change in Sam, especially, is clear, as he discovers talents beyond coolness thanks to a new interest in chess. Middle-grade readers may find one part of this story upsettingly realistic and the clearly stated moral not what they had hoped to hear, but the generally humorous approach will make the lesson go down easily. (Fiction. 8-11) Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection - October 2006
This story is told from the viewpoints of the four main characters, with each character giving his or her perspective. Brenton (the geek), Sam "Snik" (class clown), Judy (teacher's pet), and Kelsey (a slacker) are put together in a group by their first-year teacher even though they have nothing in common. One day Brenton lets it slip that he doesn't spend any time doing homework because he has a machine that does it for him. Before long, the four kids are going to Brenton's house after school everyday, where the machine does their homework for them, complete with an occasional error (deliberately inserted in the programming to avoid making the teacher suspicious). Because there are hints that their secret is no longer so secret, they decide to destroy it and go back to doing their homework the old-fashioned way. I enjoyed this book, as will middle school readers, because it is a fun story. As an adult reader the author gave me powerful insight into the thinking of middle school children. They don't always come to the same conclusions we might, given the same circumstances, and those who teach them need to remember that. Recommended. David Lininger, Library Media Specialist, Hickory County R-1 Schools, Urbana, Missouri Â© 2006 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
School Library Journal Reviews 2006 April
Gr 4-6 -Fifth-grader Brenton is a computer genius, but the other three members of his work group think he's a nerd. So, when he tells them that he has invented a machine that does homework, they taunt him until he agrees to demonstrate. The machine actually works, and Kelsey, Sam, and Judy convince him to let them use it. At first, they are delighted with their freedom, but things quickly get out of hand. Their teacher is suspicious of the suddenly errorless work, and other friends resent the time that they spend together. The dynamics within the group are stressful as well. Judy, a talented student, feels guilty about cheating, but is pressured to excel. Kelsey is concerned that her friends will shun her for associating with "nerds," but her improved grades earn privileges at home. Wisecracking Sam makes fun of Brenton but needs his help in playing chess by mail with his dad, who is serving in Iraq. The children gradually begin to bond, especially after Sam's father is killed in combat. Eventually, their secret causes conflict with the law. The story is told entirely through short excerpts from police interviews. This device shows the developing relationships through the kids' own observations. There are touches of humor in the way the four classmates talk about themselves and one another. Ominous hints about the legal trouble maintain tension throughout the story, but its exact nature isn't revealed until near the end. A dramatic and thought-provoking story with a strong message about honesty and friendship.-Elaine E. Knight, Lincoln Elementary Schools, IL[Page 140]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.