No Talking by Andrew Clements
No Talking is a delightful book with a humorous premise and sprightly, delightful characters. Dave Packer is a member of an infamous fifth grade class at Laketon Elementary School in New Jersey. His entire class has been unusually rowdy since their kindergarten days. They are known as the Unshushables by their harried teachers and administration, who are counting the days until the class exits to middle school at the end of the year.
This situation is about to change as Dave has been doing a report on India and has become fascinated by Mahatma Ghandi. He has learned that Ghandi practiced a discipline of not speaking for one day of each week to attempt to bring order to his mind. Dave decides to try this discipline himself, which causes immediate problems. He is unable to deliver an oral report on India to his class because it is due on his day of silence. Dave fakes a coughing fit to escape the dilemma, but his classmates soon catch on to his deception. When they find out about Dave’s project they too are inspired, and the entire class decides to remain silent for two days.
The students create elaborate rules to make their program work. They are allowed to answer a teacher’s questions, but in only three words. Except for this, they must remain silent with their peers and also at home, but they are allowed to make sound effects such as grunts, groans, and clapping. They can also use other forms of communication such as writing notes, miming, and even sign language. The project also becomes a boy/girl competition to see who can be the most silent. There are elaborate scorekeeping plans involving a point system for penalties when someone breaks the rules.
The new code of silence creates many hilarious situations. One student gets a very bad haircut because he is not allowed to speak to his barber. The teachers and administration are flabbergasted at the new order and react in various ways, some of them quite devious. For example, the science teacher decides to quietly observe the unfolding phenomenon as an experiment, and the language arts teacher decides to turn his observations into a research paper, and maybe even a book. The principal reluctantly abandons her favorite discipline tool, a bullhorn. There are echoes of the Wayside School books in the wacky goings on at Laketon Elementary School.
Ultimately, the whole school, faculty and students alike, are transformed in a good way by this experiment. They have learned new ways to communicate: the kids and teachers at Laketon Elementary School had changed the way they expressed themselves, changed their view of language itself- what it is, and how communication can take so many different forms.
No Talking is a fast and enjoyable read. The characters, setting and actions are completely believable. The situation portrayed is funny but with serious underlying issues. Numerous discussions could be generated involving the importance of listening, repect for others, and the importance of communication. There are silly authorial asides that add to the enjoyment. Adults should enjoy it as much as children, though for different reasons. It would be a great book to use in a book discussion group for almost any age. Teachers could regard it as a therapeutic gem. This was a joy to read and it only increased my appreciation for Andrew Clements as an author.
review by Donna Talmage, July 2011