Although I think it’s unlikely that anyone is actually looking for a book on gender wars, Andrew Clements’s middle-grade novel, No Talking, puts a hilarious spin on the boys versus girls thing that often permeates the fifth grade (Aladdin, $5.99). When Dave Packer and Lynsey Burgess get into a heated debate about who talks more — boys or girls — their argument overruns the whole grade. Both sides agree on a pact to not speak more than three words at a time, but only when asked a direct question by an adult. They monitor each other at school and everyone agrees to an honor code of reporting communication transgressions that occur at home.
You’d think that the teachers would be delighted at this sudden silence, but they can’t quite handle a situation that they don’t understand and none of the kids wants to waste their words trying to explain it. One enthusiastic Language Arts teacher figures out the contest and decides to conduct his MA research on the ways in which the kids choose to use their three words as well as the other forms of non-verbal forms of communication that develop. Once again, Clements writes a great school story that kids will relate to, while also addressing big-picture concepts like communication, language, and authority. With talking limited, both Dave and Lynsey find themselves observing and thinking a lot more. They both learn a lot from this experiment, about words and about each other. While Frindle is probably Clements’s best-known book, No Talking is definitely my favorite.