It’s spring, and that means Tangerine. Each year (for the past seven) I read Edward Bloor’s novel, Tangerine, with a group of 6th grade students. Without fail, it is their favorite book of the year, and also without fail, I am astounded at this book’s power over twelve-year-old kids.
Of course, on day one, we eat tangerines. And then we plunge in. Bloor’s thirteen-year-old novel is so full of discussion topics that I can feel my heart racing at the end of class because I want the kids to be able to “see” it all – just like the book’s legally blind, but very observant, protagonist – Paul Fisher.
Paul’s family lives in a former tangerine field in Florida. It is now a housing development called Lake Windsor Downs in which the streets are all named for British royal families. The destruction of the fields that were necessary for such development results in anonymous uniformity, but of course, nature wreaks havoc with the best plans of the residents.
What I love about teaching this book is that it revolves around the issue of appearance versus reality. For many twelve-year-olds, it is the first time they have considered the price we pay for keeping up appearances. There is a lot more to say about this book. Paul’s brother, Erik, is a mean kid and the high school football star. Their mother can more clearly see the wrong paint color on a neighbor’s mailbox than what is happening in her own family. And their father is so obsessed with Erik’s football possibilities that he can’t (or won’t) look at the disasters everywhere around him.
Many of the students share this book with their parents, and I imagine it leads to some good discussions. Those are the best kind of teaching experiences – when the discussion continues after the class is over.