A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
DECEMBER 18:

  • Happy birthday Marilyn Sachs (The Bear’s House, A Pocket Full of Seeds).
  • It’s the birth date of Alison Uttley (1884–1976) A Country Child, A Traveler in Time.
  • Also born on this day was the Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin (1878–1953). Read The Inner Circle: An Inside View of Soviet Life Under Stalin, by Andrei Konshalovsky and Alexander Lipkov.
  • It’s New Jersey Day, in honor of this state’s birthday. In 1787, New Jersey was the third state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Read Voices from Colonial America: New Jersey 1609–1776 by Robin Doak and The Wizard, The Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey by Lisa Papademetriou.
  • Regardless of which winter holiday you celebrate, if any at all, enjoy Bake Cookies Day.

On December 18, 1956, one of the most popular long-running television shows, To Tell the Truth, premiered. Truth, of course, is a slippery thing. What seems true to one person does not appear that way to another. One of our best novels for ten- to fourteen-year-olds, published in 1991 and already a classic, explores the issues of what is true, what is false, and what is misleading. In Avi’s Nothing But the Truth, ninth grader Phillip Malloy faces problems both at school and at home. His only release comes in running and in his dreams of making the track team. But a D in English, from veteran teacher Margaret Narwin, ends his quest—although the track coach suggests that Phillip simply go to the teacher and see if he can make up work.

Phillip takes another approach—goading her. In her home room, when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played “for respectful silent attention” over the public announcement system, Phillip starts to hum. After this continues and he refuses to stop, Ms. Narwin sends him to the vice principal, who eventually suspends him for repeated incidents of disrespect. Then Phillip and his father talk to the press—about the unpatriotic nature of the school. At this point, the media coverage all over the country causes the situation to spiral out of control.

The story itself is so suspensefully crafted that it would be a page-turner even if told as a straight narrative. But Avi has presented the differing points of view by using a variety of forms—memos, letters, conversations, interviews, and Phillip’s diary. Hence readers get to see the evolving story from multiple perspectives.

Well written, well paced, and provocative, Nothing But the Truth works brilliantly when read by a group—because everyone will come to a slightly different understanding of the events, depending on how he or she reads the evidence. How truthful would their testimonies seem to be if Phillip or Margaret Narwin were tried in a court of law? The book also examines how accurately our media relates real incidents.

Avi’s Nothing But the Truth is an engaging story, but it also causes readers to think about truth, lies, and the consequences.

Here’s a passage from Nothing but the Truth:

 

MR. GRIFFEN: Before I get into my formal speech, I’d like to lead off—put it right at the top of your thoughts—with something that has happened here in Harrison, something that has disturbed me greatly. I am a great believer in basic American values. And let me tell you good people—and I am sure I speak for you too—I am shocked that a Harrison student should be expelled from one of our schools because he desires to sing the national anthem. Yes, my friends, it is the truth. It has happened here.

 

Originally posted December 18, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, Newbery, Politics, School
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Nothing But the Truth
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COMMENTS

  1. When I read Nothing But The Truth, I thought of it as a documentary novel. It reads as though Avi has lots of documentary film footage that he has carefully edited to create a narrative but without any voice over to influence the reader. It could easily have become a one dimensional and didactic view of how many groups – students, faculty, administration, parents, media, community – interact with each other in high school. Instead Avi adds to the complexity of it all by showing the variety of opinions and personalities within each group and thus providing the reader with ambivalence rather a clear linear interpretation. In other words, true to life.

  2. Anita says:

    Peter: Thanks for this post. A great analysis of how the book works. Anita

  3. suzi w. says:

    I will have to read this book again. I read it one time at home in my 20s, I guess one of my siblings, in high school at the time, owned it. It read quickly, and well. Avi wasn’t around when I was avidly reading YA instead of now, dabbling, so I think this might be the only one of his that I’ve read.

    Love the new cover–wow, that is arresting. And Marilyn Sachs–I adore her. The two you listed, (Bear’s House, Pocketful of Seeds) are among my favorites. Pocketful of Seeds…LOVE IT. I own both The Bear’s House and the sequel. I remember buying The Bear’s House one summer at a sparse bookstore one year when I could find nothing to read and so just bought what I could find that looked good. That was the summer I bought the Joy Luck Club at the grocery store…so I guess it was the summer after my freshman year of college.

    AND, both my parents are from New Jersey. It’s a real red letter day.

  4. Anita says:

    Suzi: Nothing beats that fabulous moment when we see connections everywhere. Glad the Almanac did that for you today.

  5. Beverly says:

    Avi is one of my all-time favorite authors for children. He writes all the genre and he writes them superbly. I read True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle straight through. Couldn’t put it down.

  6. Jean says:

    You need to add “Breaking Stalin’s Nose” to your recommended reading list for this date. What a pairing it would make with “Nothing But the Truth”! How would Philip or Ms. Narwin have fared in that regime?

  7. Anita says:

    Jean: Thanks for the idea of pairing these two.

  8. Chelsea DeTorres says:

    When I finished reading this book, I had shivers. With this marvelously crafted book, I find a new reason for Phillip’s tears at the end every time.

  9. GM Hakim says:

    This should be required reading for all education majors in the country. As a teacher myself, when I first read the book, I found myself siding with Ms. Narwin unequivocally. But when I thought about it more, I started to side with Philip. There are many interpretations of the events in this book, and its detached, “here are the documents” approach invites readers to make their own interpretations about the events without offering either side as “correct.” A thrilling read, one sure to elicit an emotional reaction from any reader.

  10. Lawrence Brian Schwartz says:

    I loved the book so much I’ve written in a labor of love a film screenplay directly based on the book itself and I would love to read it to Avi if given the chance and also direct and produce the film completely faithful to it.

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