2016-01-21

by Jeremy Venook, AmeriCorps member on the Wellington Management team with McKay K-8 School

What do an almost-new calligraphy pen, the Sargasso Sea, the Suffragette Movement, and an Indian ocean liner have in common?

These seemingly disparate items form the backbone of E.L. Konigsburg’s The View from Saturday. Armed with their knowledge of these and many other odds and ends, an upstart quartet of 6th-graders, calling themselves “The Souls,” takes the world of New York middle school trivia by storm with a surprise run to the state finals. As the moderator rattles off question after question, the team from Epiphany Middle School fight to the finish against an eighth grade team that should, by most accounts, be a heavy favorite.

What makes The View from Saturday such a joy to read, though, is what comes between the questions. Each time one of The Souls buzzes in, they bring to their answer a story, told in their own unique and entertaining voice. Noah Gershom, who fields the first question, nitpicks his mother’s grammar and once wore a tuxedo t-shirt to serve as a best man in a retirement community in Florida; up next, Nadia Diamondstein puts her trips to the beach to rescue sea turtles to surprising good use. Ethan Potter, who measures his life in the length of his morning bus rides, has his own history with his answer; and Julian Singh, buzzing in last, brings to play his Indian heritage, his love of Through the Looking Glass, and a knack for sleight of hand that is nothing if not handy. Bringing it all together is their teacher, Mrs. Olinski, whose physical disability belies a knack for spotting knacks—not just intelligence and creativity, but kindness and character as well.

As the stories weave together, The View from Saturday becomes about much more than trivia. The book explores serendipity, teamwork, and the many journeys that often arrive at the same destination. And, of course, for those who, like me, begin most of their sentences with “did you know,” the trivia is there to keep readers learning and maybe even spark an interest in a new subject.

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