Friday, July 29, 2011

Extra Credit, by Andrew Clements

Title:  Extra Credit
Author:  Andrew Clements
Publisher:  Antheum
Year:  2009
Pages:  192
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Acceptance, Self-Confidence, Multiculturalism
Age Range:  4th through 7th Grade

Summary: (from Amazon)
It isn’t that Abby Carson can’t do her schoolwork. She just doesn’t like doing it. And in February a warning letter arrives at her home. Abby will have to repeat sixth grade—unless she meets some specific conditions, including taking on an extra-credit project to find a pen pal in a distant country. Seems simple enough. But when Abby’s first letter arrives at a small school in Afghanistan, the village elders agree that any letters going back to America must be written well. In English. And the only qualified student is a boy, Sadeed Bayat. Except in this village, it is not proper for a boy to correspond with a girl. So Sadeed’s younger sister will write the letters. Except she knows hardly any English. So Sadeed must write the letters. For his sister to sign. But what about the villagers who believe that girls should not be anywhere near a school? And what about those who believe that any contact with Americans is . . . unhealthy? Not so simple. But as letters flow back and forth—between the prairies of Illinois and the mountains of central Asia, across cultural and religious divides, through the minefields of different lifestyles and traditions—a small group of children begin to speak and listen to one another. And in just a few short weeks, they make important discoveries about their communities, about their world, and most of all, about themselves.

 As children's authors go, Andrew Clements is about as consistently good as they get.  His books are always well-written, well-paced, and well suited to the age level of the kids he is writing for.  And that is why I was disappointed in Extra Credit.  Don't get me wrong, the writing is still first rate and the characters are well-developed.  In the first part of the book, Clements does a great job setting up the relationship between Abby and Sadeed.  And given the fact that Sadeed is from such an alien culture, that is no small feat.  The problems for me start after Sadeed is confronted by the Talib near his village.  Once that happens, the story suddenly speed up, but not in an exciting, things are really happenin' sort of way.  The last third of the book feels incomplete.  It felt like Clements was suddenly unsure how to write a story about why Abby and Sadeed had to stop corresponding in a way that would make it accessible for younger readers.  And I suppose that is not really surprising-I know adults who have a hard time comprehending the very different culture of Afghanistan.  There are some decent discussion points in the novel-culture clash, racism, stereotypes-but I felt a bit let down by Mr. Clements when I finished this one.

Teacher Resources:
Author Website 
Simon and Schuster Reading Group Guide  

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