Trinka Hakes Noble's 1987 book Meanwhile Back at the Ranch is the story of Rancher Hicks and his strong wife Elna. While he sets off for the town of Sleepy Gulch 84 miles from the ranch, Elna plans to dig the potatoes. In alternating double-page spreads of their experiences, she tends a newly birthed batch of kittens and wins and ultra-cool refrigerator, and he hears the latest news (about a five-minute rain shower in '49) from the barber. Things get even more outrageous as Elna inherits a bunch of money, gets visited by a movie producer and the President, and strikes oil on the ranch, all the while taking care of business as usual. Meanwhile in Sleepy Gulch, Rancher Hicks watches a lengthy checker game, eats potatoes galore at Millie's Mildew Luncheonette, and watches a turtle cross the road, bringing Elna a box of Cracker Jacks home because she missed all the excitement.
One fifth grade class stared at me the entire time I read the story (with the best rancher and small-town voices I could muster). Not a smile appeared, and not a single person seemed to catch the humor, much less the irony. The next class laughed, gasped, and guffawed at the couple's antics, and several children asked to read the book when I finished.
So, what makes one group of students so different from another? How could one class be so engrossed in the ridiculous plot elements (and illustrations) while the other seemed unaffected by any of it?