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Esmé Raji Codell has written a funny, hip diary filled with one-liners and unadorned thoughts that speak volumes about the raw, emotional life of a first-year teacher. Like Ally McBeal in the classroom, the miniskirted and idealistic Codell sometimes fantasizes her career is a musical. Her inner-city Chicago elementary school fades to black as the lunch lady strikes an arabesque or a struggling student performs the dance of the dying swan, all set to her interior soundtrack. (Tina Turner's "Funkier Than a Mosquita's Tweeter" echoes whenever her idea-stealing, dimwitted principal harangues her.) She's a rash, petite, white lady who roller-skates through the halls and insists that her fifth-graders call her "Madame Esmé." But it's not all fun and games: she introduces us to children who fling their desks and apologize in tears, and at one point, after reporting a disruptive student to her mother, who subsequently thrashes the young girl, she dry heaves into her classroom's trash can.
Codell's 24-year-old voice is loud and clear ("Serious gross out," she writes after the scorned principal hugs her), though, on the principle that kids say the darnedest things, she often simply repeats their comments for comic effect. She's got sass, maybe too much self-confidence at times, and though there's no deep introspection in Educating Esmé, you'll be convinced her 10-year-old charges emerge the better for knowing her. --Jodi Mailander Farrell [via]