Allow me a bold statement: Andrew Clements is, quite simply, an excellent writer--among the very best for children! His earlier novel for older children (9-12 and above), Frindle, WAS his best creation, but now, I'm thinking that Extra Credit belongs right there on the shelf next to Frindle as Clements' tour de force novel.
Frindle is about the creative impulse and the impetus behind an idea to make it FLOW. Yet--when Clements made me get down on the floor in this novel and "see" those mountains-- wow, there are no words to express that moment of discovery that makes Abby see those mountains with Sadeed.
Abby Carson is a sixth grader in the middle of the year, who is advised that she will probably need to repeat sixth grade. Her scores are just too low and she has shown no signs of improving or even wanting to improve. Such a fear becomes her wake-up call. Please, what can I do? An extra credit project--write to a pen pal and create a display of your letters on the bulletin board.
So Abby gets a pen pal in Afghanistan--a pen pal chosen by the village elders. They pick Sadeed because his English and his writing skills are the best of all pupils in the village--however, Afghan culture prevents boys and girls from communicating, so his younger sister becomes the front as the letter writer.
Cultural differences await and will spill over into each other's neighborhood, becoming the focus of a situational divide. That is absolutely all I can reveal about this deeply impacting short novel. If I were in the classroom, I would make Extra Credit required reading.
Reasons why this novel should be read by middle school students:
1. It's an excellent story.
2. The implications cause the reader to consider his/her own life in comparison
3. It's a great cultural introduction to a totally different way of life
4. It teaches geography and a bit of history
5. By happenstance, it raises the issue of compassion and encourages the reader to stretch one's sense of unique place in the universe
Bottom line: Extra Credit is most highly recommended!
I also highly recommend Frindle as a wonderful addition to school, classroom, and personal libraries.
Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)
- *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
- The Odd Women by George Gissing
- The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
- How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
- The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
- In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
- *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
- Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
- The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
- Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
- Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
- Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
- The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
- Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
- Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
- Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
- *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
- A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
- The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
- Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
- *Ruined by Paula Morris
- Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
- Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
- Silence by Shusaku Endo
- *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
- Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
- *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
- Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
- *The Giver by Lois Lowery
- *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski