“Putting your underwear on backwards isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you on the first day of school.”
And so begins a very cute, clever and funny children’s book about a mischievous third-grader doing all he can to avoid reading in front of a large audience on his school’s Parents Night, driven by the insecurity that he is not a great reader.
It’s no coincidence that a major theme in Wiley Blevins’ Trevor Lee and the Big Uh-Oh (Red Chair Press) is literacy. The author has devoted his career as a writer and educator to helping young children make sense of letters and words so they can read books like this one. He is a popular speaker about how children learn to read.
Blevins carries out his narrative so fluidly that children will find themselves enthralled with a humorous, relatable character in Trevor but also subtly hear the message that learning to read is a process and one need not be discouraged if at first you don’t succeed.
In fact, Blevins devotes the book to his grandmother, who was the inspiration for the character of Trevor’s Mamaw – serving as a mentor to the young protagonist but also carrying an important secret of her own.
While Trevor and his best friend Pinky indulge in many typical childhood activities for anyone living on or near a farm (fishing, apple picking, feeding the animals), the driving focus is Trevor’s goal not to participate in Parents Night, where each student must read in front of everyone.
With the help of Pinky, he ponders a variety of “third-grader” strategies to be excused from the activity:
- Run away and join the circus. (Note to self: You’re scared of lions and clowns.)
- Move to Timbuktu and adopt a piglet. (Note to self: Find Timbuktu on a map.)
- Buy a banjo and become a country music star. (Note to self: Learn how to sing. And play an instrument.)
Needless to say, any more practical attempts at avoidance are thwarted by his knowing and sensitive teacher Mrs. Burger, referred to as The Boog.
Having failed in his escape attempt, Trevor has no choice but to face the music, or rather the words, learn his part, and get ready to go. This is compounded when Walter, one of the smarter children with a major reading role, becomes ill and The Boog taps Trevor to read his segment as well.
It’s hard when a child has difficulty reading – and when children read aloud together, those with reading challenges try their best to get lost in the crowd. “Everyone started reading out loud,” Trevor recalls. “I just moved my lips up and down. Like a horse eating peanut butter. Unfortunately, when everyone stopped, my lips kept moving.”
Blevins’ writing is charming, entertaining and insightful. For example, as The Boog is providing some instruction and asks whether everyone understands, Trevor says, “We all nodded, whether we understood or not. It’s the quickest way to shut a teacher up.”
Another nicely written scene is when Trevor and Pinky get in trouble during an apple-picking trip and wind up with no apples of their own. Later, they enter a country store that has bags of apples stacked up front. “We didn’t make eye contact with the apples,” Trevor says. “But I could tell they were looking at us.”
The book offers other lessons for children. One is the concept of building a checklist of tasks to accomplish for a particular activity and experiencing the good feeling of being able to cross off completed tasks from your list.
Admittedly I am a few decades beyond the targeted 8-to-10-year-old age group for Trevor Lee and the Big Uh-Oh. But I am not ashamed to confess I thoroughly enjoyed this book and imagined young children laughing and learning their way through it as well.
And in case you are wondering what could be worse than putting your underwear on backwards on the first day of school?
“Having everyone find out.”
Trevor Lee and the Big Uh-Oh is now available for purchase.
About Wiley Blevins
Wiley Blevins is an early reading specialist who holds a M. Ed. from Harvard. He taught elementary school in both the United States and South America, and was Director of Special Projects for Scholastic in New York City. Wiley has written and edited many phonics and reading materials, and is also the author of Phonics from A-Z and Teaching Phonics and Word Study in the Intermediate Grades.