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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1559

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...

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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 of the fun ideas. When he presents his program to the class, everyone rebels. Hart does not know what to do, so he yells at them and tries to force them to go along with his plan.

The following day, Hart finds himself the most unpopular kid in school. Luckily, Mr. Meinert comes to his rescue. In front of the class, he tells Hart that the kids can use the school gym for their performance. The gym is more flexible than the auditorium, so it gives the kids room to use more of their silly ideas. When Mr. Meinert makes this announcement, he pretends it was all Hart’s idea. Later, Hart thanks him, and Mr. Meinert offers to help again whenever he asks. Mr. Meinert is beginning to realize that he is watching his students do something extraordinary, and he wants to make it work as much as they do.

Hart decides that a kid-run concert should not be organized by just one kid. He holds a vote about what goes into the concert and what gets cut out. The vote works fairly well, giving the most popular ideas a firm place in the program and knocking out the least popular ones. However, the card trick and the ballet dance both get barely enough votes to be included even though more than half the class thinks those ideas are stupid. The class erupts into an argument, and Hart asks Mr. Meinert for help.

Mr. Meinert calms the class down and explains that a theme can hold a concert together. On the board, he writes the name the kids have chosen for the concert: Winterhope. Allison, the girl who came up with the name, says it makes her think of peace. The kids are not sure how to use the idea of peace in a concert, and the kids who want to do ballet and card tricks think he is trying to tell them they cannot do their acts. Mr. Meinert denies this. Instead, he tries to show them how they can use the idea of peace as a thread to tie all the acts together. When the class begins to understand, everyone gets excited and rushes back to work.

The last few days before the concert are full of fights and crises. Mr. Meinert is a little upset that the kids do not have the time to learn harmony parts, so the music sounds bland and boring. However, the kids put their whole hearts into preparing the performance. Mr. Meinert puts in long hours to help them, and his wife gets angry at him for putting so much work into a job he knows is lost.

On the night of the concert, parents watch the school band and orchestra in the auditorium as usual. After the intermission, they follow signs to the school gym. As they enter, they get to watch the card trick and the ballet routine. As the main show begins, a girl named Carolyn reads a message about peace. She says holidays are for tradition, family, and belief, and she explains that

holidays remind us that every family wants to live and worship in freedom and peace.

After Carolyn’s speech, the kids sing their songs. They do an audience sing-along with “Jingle Bells,” and they have plenty of wacky performers—including a kid dressed up as Elvis in a Santa suit. They include Christian songs, a dreidel routine, and a display of decorations that includes Muslim and Kwanzaa themes. There are several problems, especially when a kid in a dreidel costume throws up, but the kids get through the show fairly well.

Hart does not take a big role in the show. He just stands in the back row of the choir and sings with the other kids, and he is nervous even doing that. Other kids act as stage director and do big solos in front of the group.

Although the show is not perfect, the audience loves it. It is obvious how much hard work and feeling the kids have put into it, and nobody wants it to end. After the last note, the people in the audience spring to their feet and clap long and hard. Mr. Meinert’s wife is so moved she cries.

After the show, Mr. Meinert leaves the gym. Hart finds him in the choral room. After Hart thanks his teacher, he notices that Mr. Meinert is packing up his possessions. When he learns that Mr. Meinert has lost his job, Hart is appalled:

We—we could have done something—like send letters...or make a petition...start a big protest...something!

Mr. Meinert smiles and explains that this is why he did not tell anyone. He does not want people’s pity and worry; he just wants to teach music.

As Hart leaves the room, Mr. Meinert gives him the rubber band he shot over a month before. “Turns out it was just what I needed,” he says. Hart smiles and says it ended up well for him too. They turn out the lights and leave, neither fully happy, but both knowing they have accomplished something great.

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