Andrew Clements, . . S&S, $15.95 (166pp) ISBN 978-0-689-84516-1

Clements's (The Report Card ) latest school-centered novel introduces Hart Evans, the most popular boy in school ("Hart could have charmed the hairnet off a cafeteria lady"). He hates sixth-grade chorus; while the chorus practices for the upcoming holiday concert, the bored boy shoots two elastic bands that hit the teacher, Mr. Meinert. The man hustles Hart to the principal's office, and readers then discover something that Hart does not know: because of budget cuts, the chorus director's job is being terminated at semester's end. His patience strained by this and by his class's lack of interest, the teacher snaps and hands responsibility for the concert to the students ("It's not my concert. It's your concert. You don't like the songs I've picked? Fine. Pick your own"). After the students elect Hart as director, the teacher looks on with understandably mixed feelings. Meanwhile, as the boy panics about the approaching concert, his diplomacy gives way to bossiness that lands him in trouble with his peers. The third-person narrative focuses on both boy and teacher, and some readers may grow impatient with the sections that reveal Mr. Meinert's feelings. It comes as no surprise that—with Meinert's help—the concert is an unparalleled success. Though the account of the culminating event and of Hart's farewell to the teacher are affecting, Clements's fans may find that this belabored tale does not live up to his best performances. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)