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Frindle: 02/26/16

Frindle by Andrew Clements

Frindle by Andrew Clements is a short chapter book recommended to me by my son when he was first discovering pleasure reading. That was back in the day when I was still wrapped up in my commitments to ARCs and egalleys, and so I missed reading the book when my son was still excited by it.

Nick Allen is going into 5th grade and a class taught by the strictest teacher in all the district. She is a stickler for grammar, words, and definitions. He tries his usual delaying tactic by asking a rhetorical question at the start of the first day of class except she turns the question back to him, requesting that he write a paper on the origin of words.

Nick could have ignore her and not done the report. It would have been a way for him to admit defeat and for Mrs. Granger to get the class back on track. Except, he doesn't. He does the report and he takes it seriously, and he tries to use it to his advantage.

Frindle is about testing authority and taking changes. A dictionary is a list of words with standardized spellings and recorded definitions. In English we don't have a governing body for our language, though the dictionary publishers like Oxford and Merriam Webster come close in that they decide which words to commit to print.

But language, as Nick discovers through Mrs. Granger's project, is organic. And it changes as inspiration strikes. Someone needs to describe something and if the word doesn't exist or they don't know the word, they make something up. If that made up word fills a niche and conveys meaning, it gets adopted by others.

Nick tries his own word experiment, deciding on a whim to call a pen a frindle. He gets his classmates to play along. The experiment takes on a life of its own spreading well beyond the classroom, the school, and into the town.

I can see why my son loved this book. I have always taught my children to respect authority to a point but to recognize when those in positions of authority are going to far. Throughout most of this book, Nick's experiment is played up as a lack of respect for Mrs. Granger's authority in the classroom. But it's not. Mrs. Granger's desire for her students to respect the dictionary wasn't there to force them into being language automatons. Instead, it was a desire for them to understand how to use it as a tool.

Mrs. Granger isn't the bad guy in this book, though she does play the role of antagonist. The final chapter outlines her quiet role in Nick's life and her tacit support of his experiment.

Five stars

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