'How Oliver Olson Changed the World'
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[November 18, 2009]
"How Oliver Olson Changed
the World," by Claudia Mills, pictures by Heather Malone, 2009, Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, ages 7-10.
Oliver Olson is in Mrs. O'Neill's third-grade classroom. They are
studying the solar system, making a diorama and finishing their studies with
a space "sleepover" where they can view the night sky through a real
telescope. At the beginning of the story, Mrs. O'Neill has begun her space
unit by announcing that Pluto is no longer considered a planet and that on
another day the class will discuss that scientific decision. She also
announces that a state senator will be visiting the school on the day of the
sleepover and has made an assignment that her students will make suggestions
to the senator that could be taken into consideration to change the world
and make it a better place.
While Oliver is a good student, he is really not looking forward to
making the diorama. He is certain his parents will not allow him to attend
the sleepover. He is also unsure he can come up with any idea that would be
good enough to send to the senator.
In Mills' novel for young people, she portrays Oliver as an overprotected
child whose parents want the best for him. Unfortunately the way his parents
provide a good environment for Oliver leaves little room for him to be a
normal third-grader. As Oliver struggles to be good and not hurt his
parents' feelings, he learns that sometimes standing up for himself is the
best thing to do.
Oliver has help with this as he shares his diorama project with Crystal,
a classmate who is never afraid to say what is on her mind. They decide that
their project will protest Pluto being cast out as a planet (something
Oliver's parents would certainly object to). As they are working on their
project, Oliver comments that he thinks there should be a rule that parents
should let their children do their own homework without interference.
Although Crystal thinks he should submit this idea to the senator, Oliver
knows he will send in his mother's idea about "no U-turns in front of the
[to top of second column]
No new ground is covered in this story, and the illustrations by
Heather Malone do little to enhance the storyline. With the
exception of Oliver, the characters of the understanding teacher,
the overprotective mother and the chatty classmate are predictable.
The reader may be confused as to why the senator is part of the
story. She has nothing whatsoever to do with the solar system
studies. (Maybe having her judge the dioramas would at least have
given her a reason to be included.) The assignment is out of
context. (Perhaps giving the children the idea to write about their
ideas to change the world could have been part of a letter-writing
However, to give her credit, Mills has crafted a tale easily
understood and readable by her intended audience, while Malone's
black-and-white illustrations may attract younger readers to tackle
the book. Sometimes a reader just needs a predictable story. "How
Oliver Changed the World" is at least entertaining, and children can
often take comfort from seeing themselves in books' characters.
To check out this book, and others about school assignments or
classmates, come see us at the Lincoln Public Library Annex, 725
[Text from file received from
Lincoln Public Library District]
(Ms. Lou's blog: