Andrew Clements’s novel The Last Holiday Concert (2004) addresses themes of leadership, motivation, and learning. The story gives young adult readers the chance to think about how children become popular as well as how they relate to each other. It provides insight into the minds of teachers and parents and into ways children can have an effect on their own education. As in many of Clements’s novels, the characters in The Last Holiday Concert bring out the best in each other so that events “happen not as they do in real life, but as they should.”

Hart Evans is fun loving and carefree. He makes no real effort to be cool, but he is one of the coolest sixth graders at Palmer Intermediate School. Mr. Meinert, the school choral director, is Hart’s opposite. He is rigid and strict and, consequently, unpopular with the kids. Hart only takes part in the choir because he did not get a place as a drummer in the school band. He resents this, and one day he takes out his feelings by shooting rubber bands in class. When one of them hits Mr. Meinert in the neck, Mr. Meinert snaps. He grabs Hart by the arm and marches him to the principal’s office, where he makes such a scene that the principal has to kick him out of the room.

Hart does not know it, but Mr. Meinert is being laid off. The budget is getting cut all over the school district, and several art and music teachers are losing their jobs at the end of the term. Under the stress of his upcoming unemployment, Mr. Meinert is growing more and more impatient with his work. Most of all, he is upset with the sixth grade choir, which is full of unmotivated kids like Hart. At home, Mr. Meinert’s wife keeps encouraging him to quit his job right away, and Mr. Meinert keeps refusing.

The day after Hart’s rubber-band attack, Mr. Meintert makes a rash decision. He tells the sixth grade choir members that they are in charge of organizing the holiday concert completely on their own. At first, the kids in the choir celebrate their freedom by goofing off. However, a couple of them realize that they will look pretty silly at the holiday concert if they do not prepare. They decide they need a leader, and they hold a vote. The class elects Hart as the new director.

Hart does not want the job, and by now Mr. Meinert is regretting his decision to give up on the kids. That afternoon he talks privately with Hart and offers to retake control if Hart, the elected leader, offers this option in front of the other kids. Hart agrees to this plan at first, but in the end he is too proud to go through with it. Instead, he starts the kids working on all kinds of crazy ideas for making the concert unique. Kids suggest making fancy costumes, getting the audience to do karaoke, hanging crazy decorations—even doing card tricks and ballet routines.

At first, Mr. Meinert is upset that he does not get to regain control. However, he is also impressed as he watches Hart work. In some ways, Hart’s natural leadership skills are more powerful than Mr. Meintert’s usual policy of strict control. By the end of a single class period, all the kids are not only working willingly but are agreeing to do extra work. Later that afternoon, Mr. Meinert is amazed to find that Hart’s charm even works on him. In a private conversation, Mr. Meinert agrees to help Hart with the concert’s musical details.

For a week or so, Hart loves his job as director. He says yes to everything the kids suggest, and he sets them to work figuring out how to use their ideas. However, reality soon sets in. The kids cannot set up the school auditorium in the creative way they want to, and no half-hour concert can fit all the ideas they propose. Eventually Hart takes the kids’ ideas home and spends an evening making up a concert program. His schedule leaves out most...

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