cover image A BOOK OF COUPONS


Susie Hoch Morgenstern, , trans. by Gill Rosner, illus. by Serge Bloch. . Viking, $12.99 (62pp) ISBN 978-0-670-89970-8

Originally published in France, Morgenstern's (Secret Letters from 0 to 10) brief novel introduces Hubert Noël, the new fifth-grade teacher in a French school. Though the students in his class are initially disgruntled that he is old, round and wrinkled, Monsieur Noël soon wins them over with his penchant for giving presents. His first gifts to the children are books of coupons, entitling them to such privileges as sleeping in class, losing their homework and getting out of trouble. The second present he gives to the class, one per student, is David Copperfield ("My gift to you is the story, the characters, the words, the ideas, the style, the emotions. Once you have read the book, all these things will be yours for life"). Other gifts follow, and his idea of a field trip is to learn everyday lessons; for instance during a trip to the post office, he points out, "See how hard it is to wait your turn? You need a lot of patience in life." The author builds on an engaging premise, yet the story's point of view fluctuates, so that many of the supporting characters remain sketchy. Unlike her previous novel, the children here are overshadowed by the adults, Monsieur Noël and his nemesis, principal Incarnation Perez. Still, the uplifting mood and Bloch's Thurber-esque caricatures make this an enjoyable outing. Ages 8-12. (May )