Please read...Andrew Clements
Updated: May 10
Today marks one week from November 28, 2020, the one-year anniversary of the death of Andrew Clements, a prolific children’s book author. Clements’s work was a staple of my elementary school years. I saw his books everywhere, but in the last few years, I’ve been surprised by how many people are unfamiliar with them. A few weeks ago I put a poll on my Instagram story asking: “Do you know the author Andrew Clements and his books?” and about half of the people who responded said “no.” I was bummed about that, because I think Andrew Clements books are some of the greatest books a kid can read. As a tribute to Mr. Clements on the anniversary of his death, I wanted to say a little bit about him and his books.
A little bit about Andrew Clements:
Clements wore many hats in his career. He started out as a teacher, then a songwriter, then an editor, and then a children’s book author. He has over eighty titles to his name, from pictures to stand-alone novels to a couple of series. Also, he was the father of four sons. As a teacher, father, and children’s book author, Clements clearly had a passion for connecting with children. His official website, https://www.andrewclements.com, is a great example. On the site, there is bountiful information about Clements and all of his novels, all written by Clements in the first person, as if he is having a conversation with the reader, setting a welcoming tone for students researching for school projects and readers simply curious about their favorite author. If you are interested in learning more about the personal life of Andrew Clements, I recommend reading the bio he wrote on his website: https://www.andrewclements.com/about. It is charming and informative.
Some of my favorite Clements books:
Frindle (1996) is Clements’s first full-length chapter book. The main character, Nicholas, inquires where words get their definitions, and learns that he has real power in the way those definitions are shaped. I clearly remember reading the exchange of dialogue when Nicholas says “Who says ‘dog’ means ‘dog’?” and his teacher says, “You do, Nicholas.” With this knowledge, Nicholas starts an experiment that spreads like wildfire: convincing everyone that a pen can also be called a “frindle.” His experiment brings sweeping results that change his world. Frindle is Clements’s most famous, and arguably the most memorable, book. If any reader knows just one Clements book, it’s probably Frindle. I remember, in fifth grade, it was our required summer reading, and many classrooms across the country assign it as well. I think it is rightfully famous, because it is a story of youthful curiosity, ingenuity, and troublemaking, as well as a fascinating lesson on the real-life evolution of language.
The School Story (2001) is an inspirational and instructive tale for middle-school aspirational writers. Twelve-year-old Natalie has written a book that, according to her best friend Zoe, is good enough to be published. But can a sixth-grader really publish a book? Natalie takes on a pen name and Zoe fabricates the identity of a literary agent, and the two of them take on the traditional publishing process. This book is good for anyone who is interested in knowing what happens next after an author writes the manuscript of a new book. Clements takes the reader from literary agency, to submissions, to editorial process, through the lens of two sixth-graders posing as adults. Many young readers want to be writers, and The School Story gives those aspiring authors an accessible view of the steps they will take as debut authors.
The Report Card (2004) is an introduction to the warped competition of grades and standardized testing. Nora is a genius, but has cleverly kept her intelligence a secret, so that she doesn’t make a spectacle of herself in the eyes of her peers, teachers, or parents. In fourth grade, Nora witnesses the way statewide standardized tests rank students, fostering unhealthy competition and self-esteem issues among her classmates. The tests, while not a holistic measure of a child’s intelligence, were causing some students to feel superior or inferior to others. As a reaction to observing this phenomenon, Nora brings home an abysmal fifth-grade report card to prove a point. Nora’s plan sets off a chain reaction that leads to a school-wide rebellion “against grades and tests and bad competition.” Nora’s journey in The Report Card teaches students to be aware of how their education system works and rightfully calls into question the way young students are taught to value themselves and their peers.
The Losers Club (2017) is Andrew Clements’s penultimate publication. I read it in one day not long after it first came out three years ago. The book follows Alec, a kid who would rather read than do anything else—much more than playing sports, doing schoolwork, or interacting with classmates. Alec takes great measures to isolate himself so that he can be alone with his books, but keeps getting pulled back into the real world. When I was younger, I was the kid who read during class and always had a book handy, ready for any spare moment, so I felt incredibly seen by this book.
When I was growing up, kids all around me were reading Andrew Clements books, from my fellow bookworms to the kids who weren’t so inclined towards reading. Why are Clements books so pervasive in elementary schools? Why do young readers continually connect with these books? Yes, they are short with accessible language, but there is something else that makes these books appealing. Nicholas, Natalie, Nora, and Alec are just like the students who read them. They do not have magic powers, nor any great destinies to fulfill. They are so normal, yet they do such extraordinary things. Alec makes waves standing up for what he wants. Nora gets her whole school district talking about unfair grading systems. Natalie publishes a novel at twelve years old. Nicholas convinces the whole world to use his new word. These stories don’t take place in far-off lands. They take place in regular schools, where young kids make BIG changes. Andrew Clements’s novels show their readers that they do indeed have the power to affect change in their communities, so long as they have the courage to speak up.