Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Get Out Your Frindles!

Frindle by Andrew Clements; pictures by Brian Selznick
Recommended Ages: 8-12

Okay, here's a confession. My copy of Frindle is pretty dog-eared, and yet until two days ago I had never read it. Over the years, all three of my kids read this book and loved it. I am pretty sure I probably recommended it to people, based on their reactions to the book. But I had never actually read what I now consider to be a classic children's book. Boy was I missing out on something.

Frindle is a wonderful book for elementary-aged kids. It's smart, funny, and creative. The first two paragraphs will draw even the most reluctant of readers in:

If you asked the kids and the teachers at Lincoln Elementary School to make three lists-all the really bad kids, all the really smart kids, and all the really good kids-Nick Allen would not be on any of them. Nick deserved a list all his own, and everyone knew it.
Was Nick a troublemaker? Hard to say. One thing's for sure: Nick Allen had plenty of ideas and he knew what to do with them.

Briefly speaking, Frindle is the story of fifth grader Nick who meets his match in language arts teacher Mrs. Granger. All through elementary school, kids know that no-nonsense Mrs. Granger awaits them at the end of the line. Known for her tough weekly 35-word vocabulary tests and her love of dictionaries (she keeps a set of them at the back of the classroom, and tells the kids to use them often), it was the class that every fifth-grader dreaded. Nick was no exception. At the beginning of the school year, when Mrs. Granger teaches a lesson about dictionaries, she explains the origin of words and how words are created.

Nick asks her:

I still don't get the idea of why words all mean different things," says Nick the following day in class after giving his report. "Like, who says that d-o-g means the thing that goes `woof' and wags its tail. Who says so?"

Mrs. Granger answers him:

Who says `dog' means dog? You do, Nicholas. You and I and everyone in this class and this school and this town and this state and this country. We all agree. If we lived in France, we would all agree that the right word for that hairy four-legged creature was a different word - chien - it sounds like `shee-en,' but it means what d-o-g means to you and me. And in Germany they say `hund,' and so on, all around the globe. But if all of us in this room decided to call that creature something else, and if everyone else did, too, then that's what it would be called, and one day it would be written in the dictionary that way. We decide what goes in that book.

From that exchange, Nick comes up with the idea to substitute the word "frindle" for pen. And the story grows from there. First the kids in school start using the word "frindle",then the townspeople get caught up in the "frindle phenomenon," and ultimately it catches on (with a little publicity boost) at a national level. In fact, "frindle" seems to catch on with just about everyone, with the exception of Mrs. Granger.

The conflict/relationship between Nick and Mrs. Granger is at the heart of the story, and their characters are well developed. There is a depth to both of them that emerges as the story unfolds. I'm not going to give the ending away, but it is surprising and quite heart-warming for all involved.

BookNosher Tidbits: Here's a list of the awards that Frindle has won to date:
1997 Christopher Award
Rhode Island Children's Book Award 1998
Judy Lopez Memorial Honor Book (L.A.)Award 97
Great Stone Face Book Award (NH)1997-1998
Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Award (IL)1999
Massachusetts Children's Book Award 1998-1999
William Allen White Children's Book Award (KS)1998-1999
Georgia Children's Book Award, 1998-1999
1998-99 Maud Hart Lovelace Award, MN Youth Rdg. Award
Sasquatch Children's Book Award (WA) 1999
1999 South Dakota Prairie Pasque Award
Charlie May Simon Children's Book Award, (AR)1998-99
Premio Cassa di Risparmio di Cento di Letteratura per Ragazzi, 1998, Cento, Italy
1998-99 Nevada Young Readers'Award
1998-99 North Carolina Children's Choice Award
Pacific NW Lib.Assn.- Young Reader's Choice 1999 (WA,OR,MT,AK,ID,AB,BC)
1999 Texas Children's Crown Award
Young Hoosier Book Award (IN) 1998-99
1998-99 Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Book Award, 4-6
Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award 1999-2000
Utah Children's Choice Award, 2000

BookNosher Activities: The first activity that comes to mind is The Dictionary Game. You know, the game where one person pulls a fairly obscure word out of the dictionary and tells it to everyone. Then everyone makes up their definition of the word and writes it on a piece of paper. The person who originally found the word then reads aloud everyone's definition (including the correct one), and people vote on the definition they think is correct. What a great way for kids to learn new vocabulary AND be creative!
There are a lot of sites devoted to Frindle. Here's one that has "activities relating to the book "Frindle." There are biographies and interviews with author Andrew Clements. Other topics include the history of the pen, writing instruments, the dictionary, and the dictionary editorial process. Try the interactive word games, the online dictionary, and language tools."


Debbie said...

Thanks for this recommendation. I've picked this book up several times but have not read it yet either. I don't think that my boys have either. This sounds worth the read.

Robin Gaphni said...

Hi Debbie,
I don't think you will regret it. Now I'm going to go and check out his other "school stories," like Landry News, The Janitor's Boy and Lost and Found.
Let me know how you and your boys like Frindle.