"Mrs. Granger, you have so many dictionaries . . . where did all the words come from?"
Nick, hoping to avoid the upcoming homework assignment from his English teacher, looked innocent enough until she said, "Nicolas . . . if you find out the answer yourself, it will mean so much more than if I just told you. Please have your report ready for our next class."
So begins one of the most popular books for young readers today, "Frindle" by Andrew Clements (Simon & Schuster, 1996).
Nick decides to add his own word, "frindle," to the cumulative dictionary and the term becomes a national sensation. But this chapter book isn't just a chronicle of a spunky kid who makes a teacher wince, it concludes with a lesson that brings a lump to the throat as Mrs. Granger keeps track of Nick over the years and he remembers with fondness the assignment that launched his life.
"Frindle" won the Christopher Award for "excellence affirming the highest values of the human spirit" as well as children's choice awards in 21 states. In 2000 "Frindle" won the Beehive Fiction Award in Utah. Clements was guest speaker at the Children's Literature Association of Utah annual meeting this past weekend.
Many of Clements' works are based in school settings, perhaps because he was a teacher himself for several years. However, he became an author by the back door, so to speak. He worked in editing, translation and as a consultant for several publishers before seriously writing as an author. "Al" was his first picture book.
"Frindle" began as a picture book that couldn't find a buyer. It was "politely but firmly rejected by five publishers," says Clements. The success of "Frindle" is legendary — it has sold more than 2 million copes in both hard- and paperback.
Clements reaches the pulse of teaching in his novels: a sixth-grader trying to get a manuscript published ("The School Story"), conflicts between teacher and student ("A Week in the Woods") and relationships between classmates ("The Jacket"). "The Report Card" explores the touchy subject of academic testing in the classroom while the role of art and music teachers in the public schools is explored in "The Last Holiday Concert." "The Landry News" and "The Janitor's Boy" also feature schools as social settings.
While some of the events and characters in these books are based on his personal experiences, the author admits, others are "combinations of many kids I have known . . . and from bits of many teachers I have worked with."
Four new titles will appear on publishers' lists this year, three of which deviate from the school theme: "Things Not Seen" portrays a boy who can become invisible; "Big Al and Shrimpy" is a sequel to his popular "Al." "Delores and the Big Fire" is a beginning reader. "Jake Drake, Class Clown" becomes the fourth in a series about the popular Jake Drake.
While visiting the 21 states that have presented him children's choice awards, he has left many pithy comments about writing, about reading and about making these two come together. My favorite is,"Good books make good things happen in real life."