What if you had a machine that could do all of your homework for you? Would you share that information? What would you do with all of the extra time? How would you feel about using the machine? These are all questions that come up in Dan Gutman’s The Homework Machine.
The Homework Machine tells the story of four fifth graders who found a way out of doing their homework. The foursome is made up of a geek, a class clown, a teacher’s pet and a slacker. When the geek, Brenton, accidentally tells Sam about his machine, it sets the ball in motion for an adventure in ethics and self-discovery.
We picked up this book because it is on the 2016-17 NC elementary school Battle of the Books. J really enjoyed this book and simply couldn’t put it down. For her, she felt that this was one of those books where you really felt like you were a part of the story. She felt that she was right there in the story, seeing it through the characters’ eyes. One reason for that sense of perspective comes from the fact that you read all of the actions from various perspectives. Whereas The Candymakers focused on a long period of time from one character and then repeated that whole segment from another character’s perspective, The Homework Machine, switches from paragraph to paragraph in the four main characters’ perspectives as well as the teacher, two mothers and a few classmates.
J also felt very connected to one of the characters because the two had a great deal in common. With four very distinct personalities, it is probable that a reader will feel a certain bond or kinship with an individual character.
From an adult perspective, it was very interesting to see how the kids not only dealt with the notion of right and wrong when it came to using the machine, but also how they developed as individuals. Judy, the intelligent class-pet who worked hard but excelled, struggled with the most guilt throughout the story. Sam, the class clown, and Kelsey, the slacker, wanted to utilize the homework machine the most because they truly struggled when it came to doing the work and wanted an easy out, so they dealt with less guilt. Brenton invented it as a way to free up his time to study other things that he wasn’t doing in school and because he knew all of the answers anyway.
In addition to the ethical question of using a homework machine, part of the story dealt with each child’s desire, or lack there-of, of fitting in, especially through the eyes of Aam. Sam struggles with both a great deal of self-doubt and yet a strong need to be seen as cool. By being a part of the foursome and seeing Brenton seriously not care what others thought of him, helped Sam have more faith in himself.
This is a great book to get kids thinking about ethics. Additionally, it also highlights the fact that you can’t judge a book, or person, by it’s cover and that we don’t know what others are going through. As we have started to read a few other Battle of the Books entries, that seems to be a theme for a selection of them this year and it is a great way to help teach empathy. All in all, this was a very enjoyable book.