A Book Of Coupons
By Susie Morgenstern
illustrations by: Serge Bloch
Translated by: Gill Rosner
Published: in France by Lecole Des Loisirs 1999 In the USA by Penguin Putnam Books 2001
A Batchelder Honor Award Book
I stumbled on this book in the library and was intrigued by its cover and title. Looking at it closely it was a Batchelder Honor book so I decided to read it. It is a very short chapter book that was first written in French. The story starts out with a group of students starting their final year of elementary school with a new teacher. They wanted a young teacher that liked gym time, but instead saw Monsieur Hubert Noel. Noel is a man who has lost his wife and seems to devote his time to teaching and loving children. Noel calls himself Santa as his appearance lends itself to that nickname as well as the fact that he like to give gifts. The gift of learning, having fun, and living life. His first gift is a book of coupons. These coupons give each child a chance to skip school, come in late, singing in class, etc. Each child can use their coupons whenever they like. The story takes us through their year with the fun and practical things Monsieur Noel teaches them such as patience while standing in line to mail a package at the post office and the students using up their coupons. The students, who were dreading having an old, not athletic Noel came to love him and learned a lot. The principle, however, who was a very unhappy lady did not like Noel's tactics and teaching style. After many discretion's and Monsieur Noel trying to make her not so serious with her own book of Coupons she decides to not renew his contract for the next year forcing him into retirement. The children are outraged and want to fight for him. He however says no so instead they give him a gift. His own coupon for a happy and well deserved retirement.
This book was a fun and quick read. I think many children would like the concept behind the book. I thought it was a charming tale of yet another teacher that knows how to reach children well. The book however did seem like it was lacking some development. Maybe it was too short to really play out the scenes and I felt like it was rushed a little almost as if it was over too quickly. It also shifts points of view from Noel, the principle, and the students several times, which could be a little confusing for younger students. There was also one part of the story where the children have a discussion each week. One student brought up making love and they were going to discuss it and Noel says that if their parents had not made love they would not be there. I thought this was a little much and could have been omitted but it was also the last straw for the principle and was why he was asked not to come back. Then again the book was written in French first so I am not sure if that is more acceptable to discuss in France but I don't think many parents would appreciate their children reading that in my experience as a teacher. There were a few black and white sketch illustrations that would pop up randomly and to me did not add much to the book itself.
I think the book does have a good message but one that might be over younger children's heads. The message that don't waste your time and enjoy life while you got it as was indicated in the end when one student asked if Noel like the students that used their coupons or saved them. He also said that "when your born you get a whole set of coupons." You should use those freely. This is a good message but one that would need to be discussed for children to understand. All in all in liked reading the book and like I said enjoyed the concept of the book and it had some funny parts but not sure how much I would use it in a classroom.