I’ve been sitting here for the past three and a half years, reviewing the books that I read when I was a kid. And that’s all well and good, and I’ve had a great time doing it. But the truth is, that I kind of need to learn about more of today’s kids’ books because my older son is now five and is getting close to reading on his own. He’ll be in short chapter books in about two years, and I know him, and I doubt that the Baby Sitter’s Club is going to hold much interest for him.
My point is, I’m trying to read things that kids are reading which have been published less than twenty years ago. And while that won’t be the focus of my blog, when I read one that I think is worthwhile, I’ll go ahead and write something up for you.
And that’s where we are today.
Nick Allen is in fifth grade, and he’s a bright kid. He’s not exactly a trouble-maker, but he is definitely too smart for his own good. Nick excels at distracting teachers enough that they forget to give out homework assignments. Too bad Nick discovers that doesn’t work on old Mrs. Granger, the fifth grade dictionary-loving English teacher. Nick’s question intended to distract Mrs. Granger only ends up landing Nick with an extra assignment about the origins of words.
This assignment is boring, but it does make Nick wonder about inventing a new word. So he talks it over with one of his friends and decides to replace the word ‘pen’ with ‘frindle.’ The whole class hears about it and loves the idea. All the kids start to use the word, much to the dismay of Mrs. Granger, who hates to see a perfectly lovely word like pen (from the Latin pinna) usurped.
Mrs. Granger fights the use of frindle tooth and nail. Giving detentions to kids caught using frindle instead of pen, and even sending the school’s Principal over to meet with Nick’s parents one evening.
Word gets around to a reporter for the local small-town newspaper about detentions being given out to every student in the fifth grade, and this reporter decides to see what all the fuss is about. She interviews the Principal, Mrs. Granger, and tries to interview Nick, though he refuses on the grounds he might say something he regrets.
Once the article in the paper comes out, frindle explodes. The CBS Evening News picks up the story, David Letterman has Nick on his show, and the phrase gets trademarked by a local business man (who cuts Nick in on 30% off all profits from Frindle-related merchandise). While this goes on, Mrs. Granger writes Nick a letter, which she won’t let him read until “all this is over.”
Nick gets a little depressed after all of this. He feels like he has other good ideas (like how to make school lunches better) but he’s afraid to speak up because of all the hub-bub with Frindle. So he becomes quiet and withdrawn. Oddly enough, it’s Mrs. Granger who helps Nick out on that front, saying she doesn’t like seeing his spark gone.
Fast forward many years, and Nick is allowed to access the money from his Frindle-trust and he’s a very wealthy young man. One day, he gets a package on his doorstep. It’s from Mrs. Granger, who is about to retire. It’s the letter that she’d written Nick all those years ago. She said the Frindle war is over — Frindle has been accepted into Merriam Webster’s dictionary. The letter explains that she was rooting for Frindle to take off, and in the story of Frindle, there had to be a villian, and she chose that role. It’s a sweet little letter, a nice end to a sweet little book.
- I might only like this book because I’ve always like dictionaries. When I was a kid, I used to open to a random page and read every definition. Anyone else do that? *crickets chirping*
- These books where kids are so good, but still just slightly subversive of adults are my favorites and always have been.
- Nick is a red-head. Go gingers!
- AND he wears glasses. I love this kid.
- Cute book. This is one I’ll keep for my kid, and I’m definitely going to check out others by Andrew Clements.