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Book Review

This humorous book by Claudia Mills is second in the " Mason Dixon" series and is published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books.

Mason Dixon: Fourth-Grade Disasters is written for kids ages 8 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Fourth grade looms large for Mason Dixon. It starts tomorrow, and he is anxious. Every school year of his young life has held some sort of disaster, and this one is shaping up to be the same. For starters, Mason's parents want him to join the Plainfield Platters, the school's choir for fourth- and fifth-graders. Though Mason has a very good voice, he doesn't like to sing, especially in front of lots of people. He doesn't like to do anything in front of lots of people. Another drawback is that he has a new dog named Dog, and he'll have to leave him at home. He shares Dog with his best friend, Brody, who lives next door. Brody's dad is allergic to animals, so Brody can't have Dog at his house. Brody is as exuberant about school — well, about everything — as Mason is not.

Mason's fourth-grade teacher is Coach Joe. All his communications are in sports terms. His class is a "team," a class meeting is a "huddle," and he wants his team to have a winning season. Mason hates sports. Coach Joe wants his team to make a full-court press on writing, and he gives the class/team a writing assignment. They are to personify an inanimate object. Mason decides to write about a piano named Pedro who doesn't like to play music — a very close analogy to Mason who doesn't like to sing, especially with the Plainfield Platters in front of lots of people.

Mason's parents insist that he participate in the Plainfield Platters for at least three months before he drops out. At the first practice on Tuesday, Mason sees Puff — a large stuffed dinosaur and the school's mascot. Usually the mascot is kept in a display case, but now he sits on a chair next to the piano. Mason doesn't want to sit in the front with Brody, so he ends up on the riser next to the class bully, Dunk, who shoves him off. Mason lands on the floor. The music teacher, Mrs. Morengo, moves Mason to the first row next to Brody, where he unwillingly sings, rather than mouths the words, because she is keeping an eye on him.

On Friday, because the fourth-grader's voices are new to her, Mrs. Morengo decides to have each of them sing a short solo from the school song, "Puff the Plainfield Dragon." Mason is sure the Puff song will be stuck in his head a long time after hearing so many repetitions. Finally, it's his turn to sing. He is dismayed when Mrs. Morengo likes his singing and writes down the name of a voice teacher to give to his parents.

The next week, the principal announces that their school has been chosen for a special honor and that the Plainfield Platters will perform a televised concert in one week. This means that they'll have practice every morning before the concert. Brody notices at the first concert practice that the treasured, 20-year-old Puff has some rips and suggests to Mrs. Morengo that Mason take it home for his mother to repair. He wants Puff to look good in case TV cameras zoom in on him. Mrs. Morengo agrees. Brody and Mason carry Puff home, and Mason notes how interested Dog is in Puff. He makes sure Puff is locked up tight when no one is around to supervise Dog and also warns his mother about Dog's potential threat. But when he returns home from school the next day, Dog greets him at the door with a green dragon tail in his mouth. It seems Mason's mother was distracted when the doorbell rang, and Dog seized the moment. The bottom half of Puff is all that remains. Mason's mother says she will take full responsibility and call Mrs. Morengo.

Mason finishes work on his composition for Coach Joe. He has Pedro go on strike, never to play again. At the next concert practice, Mason is surprised when Mrs. Morengo says she's decided to have one of the children dress as a live Puff and chooses Brody to be the one in costume and to sing a Puff solo. Mason is mystified to find out his own mother is the creator of the Puff costume, and she hasn't told anyone about what happened to the beloved school mascot. To get out of singing, yet still be part of the concert, Mason asks Mrs. Morengo if he can be the stage manager in charge of lights. He is relieved when she agrees.

When Mason gets home, he talks with his mother about the concert and tells her that Mrs. Morengo was asking about Puff. Before she answers, the doorbell rings, and a big box is delivered. It's a new Puff! Mason's mother found a replacement Puff on eBay and ordered overnight delivery.

The night of the concert arrives, and Mason is pleased to not be singing; he told his parents that he wanted to surprise them with his role in the production. The Platters are the last group to perform. When Brody enters the stage, the audience says "Awwwwwww!" just as Brody said they would. But on his cue to sing, nothing happens. Brody freezes. Mason watches from his position on the lights, willing Brody to sing. He doesn't. Mason finally decides to rescue his friend from disaster by walking on stage, throwing his arm around Brody's shoulders and singing himself. Brody then joins in, and the concert concludes with the audience singing along. Afterward, Mason's parents think the surprise was Mason's solo — the fact that he ran the lights was a bonus. Mason concludes that maybe Pedro the piano should come out of retirement and play after all — but Mason is still not interested in voice lessons.

Christian Beliefs

Brody sings "I've Got the Joy" (also called "Down in My Heart").

Other Belief Systems

Mason's family infrequently attends a Unitarian church.

Authority Roles

Mason's mother is upbeat. She works hard to encourage Mason and instill a positive attitude in him. She works from home and is able to be active in his life. They read together, and sometimes she walks home from school with him. She is eager to help at his school.

Mason's dad primarily functions in a supportive role, verbally backing up his wife when necessary. His mother shows sensitivity by not making Mason eat their out-of-the-ordinary recipes. Mason is a plain-Cheerios-breakfast kind of boy, so she spares him the tofu-and-red-pepper scramble and other culinary creations that his parents enjoy. Mason had observed that his father does not sing at baseball games and mouths words to hymns in church; that is how Mason learns to lip-sync when he doesn't want to sing.





Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at ThrivingFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying: Mason's mother is responsible for Puff being destroyed by Dog. She assumes responsibility but never does tell the school that Dog destroyed the original mascot. She says to Mason that it's one of those stories that should be filed under "all's well that ends well."

Mason allows his parents to think that he is singing with the choir when the truth is that he will be operating the lights. Because of his unplanned solo, they are never the wiser.

Dunk plagiarizes his football story from the Internet, but under pressure from Nora, he tears up his story in front of the class and confesses to Coach Joe what he did. Coach Joe tells him copying somebody else's work is plagiarism, and it's wrong.

Literary mentions: Peter and the Wolf, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Secret Garden, The Shoe Series: Ballet Shoes, Theatre Shoes, Dancing Shoes, Movie Shoes, Skating Shoes, Tennis Shoes and Circus Shoes.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

For additional parenting resources, download a free issue of Thriving Family, a marriage and parenting magazine published by Focus on the Family, at ThrivingFamily.com/magazine.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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