Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Fiction Review: Between Home and School

As soon as I heard about Between Home and School: Letters, Notes, and E-mails by Bill Harley, I couldn’t wait to read it.  Bill Harley is a favorite at our house.  We are huge fans of his performances where he is a cross between a singer, a storyteller, and a family-friendly stand-up comedian.  We have listened to/watched (we have both the CD and DVD) his Yes to Running! a dozen times, and we still laugh hysterically each time!  Harley has a special talent for capturing exactly what it’s like to be a kid.  His picture book, Dear Santa: The Letters of James B. Dobbins, is also one of our favorite holiday books.

Harley’s latest achievement is a tiny book (I read it cover-to-cover in less than 30 minutes) that is written for adults rather than kids.  With his trademark warmth and wit, Harley tells the story of a young boy, Tyler, growing up, solely through a series of letters, notes, and e-mails that pass back and forth between the boy’s mother and the teachers he has over the years, from kindergarten through high school graduation. 

As always, Bill Harley injects some humor into this story, but he also manages to tell a very touching coming-of-age story in a unique and succinct way.   Yes, I really did laugh and cry during that half-hour that it took me to read this slim volume!  I felt as if I could have written some of these notes (actually, I think I have).  For example, here is a note written by Tyler’s first-grade teacher, in response to some concerns Tyler’s mom expressed:

Dear Mrs. Bennet,

I appreciate your observations.  I know you are worried.  Tyler is doing fine.  He is performing exactly as expected at his grade level.  It is normal for a child to confuse sounds at this age and also typical that he guess, rather than really read.  We all guess, most of the time.

If you would like to talk to me, please come in on Tuesday, directly after school.


Althea Elliot

I remember worrying about the same things when my oldest son was in first grade!  Would he ever learn to read properly?  (This is the same boy who reads non-stop now, at 16).  Most of the notes are examples of excellent, heart-warming communication between teachers and parents, though there is one less-than-stellar example (who I also recognized as one of my younger son’s teachers!) 

Between Home and School is a creative and appealing way to tell a story by a writer who excels at being both creative and appealing in all media formats.  This little story would make a wonderful end-of-year teacher thank-you gift, a way of telling your child’s teacher that you acknowledge and appreciate the significant role she or he plays in your child’ life.

Round River Productions
Where Are You Reading 2011:  The header on some of the letters from school indicate that this story takes place in Viewcrest, Massachusetts (Viewcrest is a fictional town, so I just picked a random point in MA!)


  1. That is one magnificent idea for a book. I've just got to read this! I'm anticipating the times when I will be communicating with parents about my students & possibly receiving notes from teachers about my own kids.

  2. This sounds really good. I love the concept - so clever. And I love reading books written in letter or journal form. This seems like a creative spin on that. I'll be adding it to my tbr list.