Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Books are magical things, but sometimes that magic can be a little shaky, especially for books aimed at kids. If you read the book as a kid, the magic will work and you'll fall in love with the story and that will be one of your favorite childhood memories. But if you missed it as a kid and try to go back and fill in the gaps as an adult, or even if you pick up a childhood favorite you haven't read since you were small, you may find that you're no longer able to suspend disbelief the way you were as a kid. Plot holes jump out at you, or the story itself or the language used to tell it is so simple it can't hold your interest. But if you're lucky, the book is good enough and your disbelief-suspending muscles are strong enough that the magic still works.
While going through the kids books at the library, I saw a book called Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements. It sounded interesting—teenager wakes up invisible, tries to both live with it and figure out why—so I checked it out and gave it a try. It was a good book: well-written, believable characters helping to make an impossible plot-line plausible. So I poked around to see if we had anything else by Clements, and as it turns out, we did. I looked at the available titles and picked up the one that sounded the most interesting: Frindle.
Frindle is the story of fifth grader Nick Allen, a smart kid with lots of ideas, and Mrs. Granger, the language arts teacher who loves the dictionary. They collide when Nick learns how dictionaries came about and invents a new word; instead of a pen, he now uses a frindle. Everyone starts using the word, Mrs. Granger starts punishing those who do, and the whole thing grows way beyond anything Nick ever expected.
It's a really quick read--fast and funny. Clements has a gift for capturing the worldview and speech patterns of elementary school kids. Nick is a great character: smart and funny and believable. Mrs. Granger shines, too—instantly recognizable, a little intimidating, and ultimately delightful.
Clements does an excellent job in making neither Nick nor Mrs. Granger the villain of the story. Kids will respond to Nick's big ideas, and adults (especially bookish adults) will respond to Mrs. Granger's love of words and her fierce dedication to their importance.