Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Frindle

Frindle

Andrew Clements
Illustrator:  Brian Selznick 
Fiction
For ages 8 to 10
Simon and Schuster, 1998   ISBN: 978-0689818769

Nick Allen has always been a rather creative boy, a boy who likes to push the envelope a little to see what will happen. One winter, when Nick was in third grade, he “decided to turn Miss Deaver’s room into a tropical island,” and he did. In fourth grade he drove Mrs. Avery crazy when he made a sound – on a regular basis – that sounded like a blackbird giving a warning call.

   Now Nick is in fifth grade and school life is a lot more serious. Grades matter and homework will no longer be something that turns up every so often. Nick has heard about the fifth grade language arts teacher. Everyone knows about her because she is tough teacher, a teacher who does not give her students any slack. Mrs. Granger is an institution with a reputation.

   On the very first day of school, Mrs. Granger gets down to work immediately. There is no easing in period in her class. Before Mrs. Granger can set her students any homework Nick puts up his hand and he asks her about dictionaries. Where do all the words in dictionaries come from? Nick’s intention is to stall for time, a ploy that he has used many times before with great success. Indeed, Nick is known for his creative stalling-so-that-homework-isn’t-given questions. Nick knows that Mrs. Granger loves dictionaries and he is confident that she will find it impossible not to expound at length about her favorite subject. Unfortunately for Nick, Mrs. Granger knows exactly what he is doing. She suggests that he find the answer to his question himself, and he can present his findings to the whole class the next day.

   Knowing he has no choice but to comply, Nick sets about putting together a presentation about the origin of words and the history of dictionaries. In fact he puts together such a long presentation that it ends up taking up most of the class time the next day. Of course this was his intention all along. In spite of himself, Nick does find some of the things he reads interesting. For example, Nick learns is that people are the ones who decide which words to use. Someone at some time decided that the word dog describes an animal that barks. They could just as easily come up with a different word.

   This concept gives Nick another idea. Without really thinking about it he decides to call a pen a “frindle.” Why not? Frindle is just as good a word as pen. He starts using the word in school and then he and his friends make a pact to use it all the time. Mrs. Granger is not amused and she tries to persuade Nick into dropping his frindle campaign, but he refuses to do so. No one ever imagines that Nick’s little act of rebellion will have a huge impact not only on him and his school, but all over the country.

   What is wonderful about this book is the fact that it is not only entertaining, but it is also thought provoking and informative. Readers, without really meaning to, will learn about dictionaries, the origin of words, and the power that words can have. They will see how one boy, without meaning to, causes quite a sensation when he stands his ground and insists that he has the right to use the word frindle if he wants to. Readers will see that words can have a story,  and if they want to be, they can be a part of a word story.

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