posted by Gina
Author: Andrew Clements
Age Range: 5th and 6th Grade
This book is also an excellent choice for your high-level-reading 2nd/3rd Grader (or as a read-aloud for the same) and – dare I say it – can be appreciated and enjoyed well into middle school. I read this book every time I need to feel really good about the world.
Genre: Realistic Fiction, School Story
Let’s Talk About This, Shall We?
I freaking love words. During that long-ago year I blundered my way through teaching Kindergarten (we will not speak of this again), my favorite activity was teaching the kiddos a huge, impressive word, then hearing about their parents’ reactions when they used it casually in conversation. (Nothing more hilarious than a 5 year old saying, “You know, Ms. Gina, I think a jacket would be superfluous today.”)
I keep lists of fun words, favorite words, other people’s favorite words (did you know that all Irish bartenders in New York will claim a swear word as their favorite? And that more people will choose ‘plethora’ than any other word? It’s true).
This book is about words, a teacher who loves the dictionary, and a kid who wants to know why. “Why do we call a pen a pen?” he asks, and, upon hearing the intriguing answer that, Latin roots aside, we just collectively agree that “pen” means what it does, decides to test this theory.
From Mr. Clements’ official website: “When Nick learns an interesting tidbit about words and where they come from, it inspires his greatest plan yet: to invent a new word. From now on, a pen is no longer a pen — it’s a frindle.”
Encouraging kids to ask why? Fabulous! Conducting social science experiments? Also fabulous! Doing so in a totally respectful, awesome-kid like way? Couldn’t be more fabulous.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot and risk giving away a crucial point – suffice to say that you’ll want to make this a read-aloud and will hang on every word along with your kid. Be prepared, though, to get all choked up at the ending and risk your 4th grader rolling her eyes at you.
If You Like This, Try:
Anything by Andrew Clements. Seriously, every gosh-darn thing that man has written has across-the-board appeal, and every one is chock-full of related projects just waiting to be thought up by a teacher or parent. (Lunch Money, The Landry News, and No Talking are my personal favorites.)
- E.L. Konigsburg (Silent to the Bone, The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place)
- Jerry Spinelli (Maniac Magee, Loser)
- And, if you somehow missed it, Holes, by Louis Sachar. This, by the way, is the absolute best read-aloud in the world. I taught a reading class that ranged from 2nd graders to 6th graders and every one of them hung on my every word when I read this book. (But please, for my sake, avoid the movie.) Louis Sachar also has a number of excellent other books, including the Sideways Stories from Wayside School series, There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom, and Dogs Don’t Tell Jokes. (Do not judge these on their terrible, terrible covers.)
And if this makes you or your offspring excited about words? I highly recommend picking up a Dictionary of Difficult Words. There is nothing more fun than skimming through, picking a completely bizarre, overly specific word (jentacular!) and trying to use it as many times as possible that day. Encourage your kid to flummox and/or impress their peers and teachers!