Allison's Book Bag

Trouble Maker and Extra Credit by Andrew Clements

Posted on: October 23, 2015

I’m back for a third and final day of reviewing books by Andrew Clements, an author whom I had the privilege to meet and hear speak at the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival. Incidentally, because I plan to review several books in a short amount of time, my critiques will be shorter than the norm.

Fifth in my round-up is Trouble Maker, a novel of just over one hundred pages that features a “bad” kid. Although the other five books by Clement that I read all have connections to writing, Trouble Maker features a character instead with an artistic talent. Clay likes to draw. In fact, it’s the misuse of this passion that helps get him into trouble.

What do I like about Trouble Maker? Foremost, it’s about a “bad” kid. At some time or another, I have featured kids who deliberately misbehave in my own fiction, as well as worked with them in a school environment. Clements does a nice job of convincing me that Clay is a trouble maker, by having him interrupt classes, launch food at students in the cafeteria, and egg neighborhood houses in the fall. At the same time, he helps me understand him by convincing me that Clay just views himself as having fun rather than hurting anyone. I also appreciate the strong role that family has in Trouble Maker. Clay’s older brother served as the original inspiration for his misbehavior. When he comes home from jail and lays down the law to Clay, he also serves as a real motivation for Clay to turn his life around. Friendship plays an equally strong role, in that Clay finds himself torn between a desire to please his brother and earn the respect of his peers. Indeed, Clay’s peers are a reason behind the police visit to Clay’s home. “Is it too late for Clay?” is a driving question behind Trouble Maker.

Is there anything I don’t like about Trouble Maker? Oh, if I wanted to be picky, I would say that the adults are perhaps a little too quick to accept that Clay is trying to change. Indeed, Clay himself is perhaps a little too eager to allow his brother to take charge. But Trouble Maker is also a novel for middle grade, or young people of ages 8-12. Given its target audience, I think Trouble Maker makes for an entertaining but also thought-provoking read.

Sixth and last in my round-up is Extra Credit, a book recommended to me for its diversity theme. How is it related to writing? The two main credits, Abby and Sadeed become pen pals through a school initiative and mail letters to one another.

What do I like about Extra Credit? I enjoyed reading about two characters who start out being most reluctant to write one another but end up anxiously awaiting each new letter from the other. Abby prefers the outdoors and so doesn’t apply herself at school until faced with the ultimatum of being held back a year. As part of a deal with her teachers, she agrees not only to pull up her grades but also to take on an extra credit project. This happens to be exchanging letters from another country and then reporting on the experience to her class. Saheed lives in Afghanistan and, because of his country’s religious beliefs, shouldn’t even be corresponding with Abby. In fact, he’s originally assigned to help his younger sister to read and write letters to Abby, but pride in his abilities and curiosity about Abby, leads Saheed to initiate his own contact. I also enjoyed the opportunity to view two worlds from different perspectives. For example, Abby hates the flat land of the Midwest, preferring the majesty of mountains. In contrast, Saheed views mountains as dangerous and the cornfields of farming country as being like “a smile of God”.

Is there anything I don’t like about Extra Credit? Absolutely not! Actually, in contrast to the other five novels I have read by Clements, Extra Credit is the most realistic, an aspect I admire. The exchange of letters between Abby and Saheed leads to trouble for both characters. Not everyone in either region approves of their friendship. Nor is there a happy ever after resolution. Yet there is hope.

This week, because I desired the opportunity to read a multitude of books by Andrew Clements, I spent less time on the computer writing the actual reviews. In my breezy introduction to Clements, I hope I have convinced you to check out this best-selling and award-winning author. Certainly, reading his books have made me a fan.

My rating? Bag them: Carry them with you. Make them a top priority to read.

How would you rate these books?

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