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The School Story
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book will likely prompt fruitful family discussions and inspire young authors to reach for their dreams. True, the main characters engage in a bit of dishonesty, but it's all done in the name of good, clean fun. While the majority of the action is lighthearted, the story does touch upon the subject of death because one of the main characters lost her father when she was younger.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Twelve-year-old Natalie Nelson has just written a novel and wants to get it published. Her mother is a children's book editor and, while Natalie wants her mom to be her editor, she wants the book to be published on its merits, not because she happens to be an editor's daughter. Natalie's best friend Zoe comes up with the perfect solution--use a pseudonym.
But Natalie knows all about the slush pile in her mom's office, and is sure no one will read her manuscript. So Zoe decides to become her agent, and together they enlist the help of an idealistic young English teacher to set up a fake literary agency.
Zoe, daughter of a powerful attorney, is as talented at scheming and manipulation as Natalie is at writing, and part of the pleasure and hilarity of this story is watching her simple but elegant plans unfold. But the girls are messing with an adult world, and soon find themselves neck-deep in negotiations, contracts, and publishing world politics.
Is it any good?
With never a misstep, Clements takes readers to an enticing world where events unfold, not as they do in real life, but as they should. Former teacher Andrew Clements had already rocketed to the upper reaches of the best middle-grade authors list on the strength of his first novel, Frindle, and two follow-ups, The Landry News and The Janitor's Boy. This story is longer and a bit more complex than the others (though still well within the reach of middle and upper elementary children), but it shares with them a deep understanding of the world of school (and now of publishing), exceptionally clever stories, wickedly sharp characterizations, and a perfection in plotting that makes them akin to caper novels.
Readers will grin from beginning to end of this enchanting story, except when brushing away the occasional tear during the more poignant moments, such as when Zoe realizes that Natalie's story, ostensibly about a girl who is caught cheating at school, is really "like a good-bye poem from Natalie to her father," who died when she was young.
The author's prose, filled with witty tidbits such as pleasing mirror-image portraits of the two heroines, is so clear that illustrations aren't really necessary. But illustrator Brian Selznick has added his own clever touches. The ending, too, is pure magic, as Zoe manipulates events to a glorious conclusion that only she has envisioned. Andrew Clements has found a niche that he fills better than anyone, and any child can tell you that there is an infinite variety of school stories to be told. Let's hope he writes many more.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the realities of the publishing process and whether a pair of 12-year-olds could ever actually work together to get a book optioned by a major publisher. How do Natalie and Zoe's differences complement one another to make them best friends -- and the perfect team? Now that Natalie has worked with her mother as an editor, do you think it will affect the way she sees her as a person? Do you think that will help or hurt their relationship as mother and daughter?