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Doing Time Online

Doing Time Online

4.0 2
by Jan Siebold

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Twelve-year-old Mitchell played a prank that led to an elderly woman's injury. Now he finds himself at the police station--his "sentence" is to chat online with a nursing home resident twice a week for the next month.


Twelve-year-old Mitchell played a prank that led to an elderly woman's injury. Now he finds himself at the police station--his "sentence" is to chat online with a nursing home resident twice a week for the next month.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Mitchell called it a practical joke that backfired, but the police called it a prank and the punishment is to participate in the O.L.D. Friend program for juvenile offenders. Mitch comes to the police station every Tuesday and Thursday for a month to have a computer "chat" with a resident of the Maple Grove Nursing Home located in another part of the state. Mitch chats with Wootie who is old but not soft. Her feisty remarks and straight-shooting questions help to give Mitch the boost he needs, but he, in turn, helps Wootie with her troubles. It is a good, small story of an unlikely friendship between a twelve-year-old who is trying to make sense of making amends and an ailing woman who is trying to let go of her home to move into an assisted-living facility. The humor and the lack of sentimentality add to the appeal of the book. Secondary characters such as the single parent dad and the neighborhood bully are well developed. More and more children's books feature computer dialogue and here is a smart addition to that niche. 2002, Albert Whitman & Company,
— Jacki Vawter
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-Mitchell, 12, is in big trouble. He is "sentenced" to do time twice every week at the police station because he and a friend played a prank that could easily have had serious consequences for an elderly neighbor. At the station, Mitch must be an e-mail pen pal to a nursing-home resident. Although resentful at first, he finds that his new friend gives him courage to finally admit that he is partially responsible for his neighbor's accident. Mitch's attempt to reclaim personal integrity includes just enough adventure to prevent didacticism. Siebold uses a simple diary format that includes Mitch's electronic conversations with his elderly friend to create an effective, contemporary novel dealing with everyday pressures that most students face. This is a book that will definitely appeal to a wide variety of readers, especially those who enjoy Donald J. Sobol's "Encyclopedia Brown" series or Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee (Little, Brown, 1990). E-mail gives a current twist to the idea of making the punishment fit the crime; the current plot combined with skillful writing will attract even the most recalcitrant readers.-Susan Cooley, Tower Hill School, Wilmington, DE Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
One young man's punishment becomes an elderly woman's hope in the confines of an Internet chatroom. This intriguing narrative thinks outside the box, and should inspire more experiments with programs like the one presented here. Mitch logs on reluctantly at the police station under the supervision of Officer MacDougal, to pay his debt to society for a teen prank. His correspondent, Wootie, is a not-so-sweet old lady who herself is "stuck" in a nursing home while she mends. Each must slowly come to grips with the passages they are experiencing in their lives. While Mitch chafes at accepting some blame for the role he played in hurting a neighbor, irascible Wootie asks him directly just the right questions and advises him in just the right way to bring him along. Meanwhile, Mitch accidentally learns Wootie will not get to go back home, and the realization that she looks forward to their exchange helps him shoulder the responsibility of helping her to make the most of her situation, not to mention change her disposition. Mitch is able in the end to face apologizing to the neighbor, as well as turning tables on the bad, mean kid who instigated the whole prank. Siebold's dialogue-online and not-and first-person narrative furthers this coming-of-age story without extraneous judgments. It's a win-win story that would make Officer MacDougal proud. (Fiction. 9-12)
From the Publisher

"This is a book that will definitely appeal to a wide variety of readers."

School Library Journal

"This intriguing narrative thinks outside the box, and should inspire more experiments with programs like the one presented here."

Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Whitman, Albert & Company
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.28(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.17(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Doing Time Online

By Jan Siebold


Copyright © 2002 Jan Siebold
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-3092-1


Tuesday, September 14

< < 3:40 P. M. > >

Officer MacDougal led me down the hallway of the Franklin Police Department and into a small room. He motioned to a chair which was placed in front of a computer terminal.

"Have a seat, Mitchell," he said. "The computer is all ready to go. Your ID code is 'Mitch.' The nursing home ID is 'MapleG.' Just type your message, and the folks at Maple Grove will know you're starting. I'll be back at four o'clock to let you out. No rudeness or foul language, understand?"

I nodded. A practical joke backfires, and suddenly you're treated like Jack the Ripper. I didn't mean it, I wanted to shout. If I could take back that night, I'd do it in a second. It wasn't even my fault, but I took the fall. Now I was stuck coming here — the police station — two afternoons a week.

Officer MacDougal closed the door behind him. I stared at the blinking cursor on the screen. Whose idea was this, anyway?

Probably some social worker type of person had come up with this program called "O.L.D. Friend" for juvenile offenders. The O.L.D. stands for "Online Discussion." I suppose you could also take it to mean "old" as in "longtime," or "old" as in "ancient." I wasn't interested in either one. Basically, I had to show up at the police station every Tuesday and Thursday for a month to have a computer "chat" with a resident of the Maple Grove Nursing Home somewhere across the state.

I guess the logic behind the whole plan was that old people have a lot of wisdom to share. It's not that I have anything against senior citizens. In fact, I hope to be one myself someday. I just wasn't sure that I could "chat" with one for an entire half-hour. I didn't have anything to say to this person, and I certainly didn't need to sit and read some lecture about the good old days when kids had to walk eight miles to school in all kinds of weather.

I looked around the tiny room. The walls were painted schoolroom green. A poster on the wall advertised a car wash to benefit the local Students Against Drunk Drivers chapter.

The computer sat on a wooden table. I could see a sticky ring about the size of a soda can on the tabletop. No one had offered me anything to drink. Near the ring, someone had carved the word "Rats" in jagged letters.

Glancing at my watch, I saw that it was almost three-forty-five. I had taken keyboarding in school the year before, and had gotten much better at it. I took a deep breath and began to type.

Mitch: Hi. My name is Mitchell Riley.

What's your name?

A few seconds went by, and then words began to slowly appear below mine on the screen.

MapleG: I'm Wootie Hayes. You're late.

Mitch: Sorry. It took longer than I thought to walk here from school.

MapleG: Then I guess you'll have to walk faster next time.

It was hard to tell whether or not this person was kidding. I typed:

Mitch: I guess so.

A minute or so went by. There was no answer, so I wrote:

Mitch: Are you a man or a woman? I've never heard the name Wootie.

MapleG: I used to be a woman. Now I'm a shriveled-up old lady. When I was born, my sister was only three years old. Apparently she couldn't pronounce my real name, Ruthie. It kept coming out "Wootie." My parents started calling me that and it stuck. Meanwhile, my sister had a beautiful name — Rose. It never seemed fair to me that she stuck me with such a horrible name and went through life with such a pretty one herself.

Mitch: I bet people don't have any trouble remembering the name Wootie.

MapleG: That's for sure. My husband Lou always said that I'm one of a kind, just like my name. I've actually come to like it. Do you have any brothers or sisters?

Mitch: No. It's just me and my dad. My mom died when I was a little kid.

MapleG: How old are you?

Mitch: Twelve. How about you?

MapleG: I'm NOT twelve.

I paused, and typed:

Mitch: How do you like it at Maple Grove?

MapleG: Ha! That's a good one. I'll bet there's not a single maple tree, much less a whole grove of them, within a mile of this miserable place.

Mitch: What's wrong with it?

MapleG: There's no privacy. The food is bland. The head nurse on my floor is a pain. Her name is Mrs. Nagle, but I call her Nurse Nag-a-lot. Mostly, I'm bored out of my skull. I'm not used to just sitting around. My roommate is nice enough, but she's the BINGO queen of the world. She's always trying to drag me to the rec room for the daily game. Last week she won a prize. Know what it was? Some of those little tissues that you carry in your purse. You would have thought it was a million dollars, the way she carried on.

I could tell that old Wootie was on a roll now.

Mitch: How long have you been there?

MapleG: Oh, about three months, I guess. Too long, that's for sure.

Mitch: Where did you live before?

MapleG: I STILL live in Colesville. My house is there. Lou laid the bricks for it himself. That's what he did for a living. We moved in right after we got married. I did the bookkeeping for him. Lou worked right up until the day he died. It doesn't seem possible that he's been gone for almost three years. I can't wait to leave this place and go home. There's a beautiful REAL maple tree there right outside my kitchen window.

Mitch: Why are you at Maple Grove?

MapleG: Back in June, I fell and broke my hip. It was a dumb accident. I was hanging out the wash and tripped over the clothes basket. I lay there for two hours until the paper boy came along and rescued me. I ended up having surgery on my hip, but it's still giving me trouble. The physical therapy doesn't seem to be helping. Why are YOU there?

Mitch: You mean at the police station?

MapleG: Of course that's what I mean.

I had to stop for a moment.

Mitch: Mine was an accident, too. It was supposed to be a joke, but it backfired and someone got hurt.

Just then, Officer MacDougal opened the door and stuck his head into the room.

"Five more minutes, Mitchell," he said.

I nodded and turned back to the keyboard. I couldn't believe that it was already almost four o'clock. I guess typing a conversation takes a lot longer than talking face to face. I wrote: Mitch: I have to go now.

MapleG: That's okay. Wallace is here anyway.

Mitch: Who's Wallace?

MapleG: He's the nice young man who delivers me from place to place around here. I guess you could call him my wheelchair chauffeur. Will you be back Thursday?

Mitch: Yes.

MapleG: Be on time.

Mitch: I'll try.

I stared at the screen, expecting a final message, but none came. Officer MacDougal led me back out, and we left.

< < 4:05 P. M. > >

The deal was that Officer MacDougal would give me a ride home. He dropped me off at the corner of my street.

As I walked the rest of the way, I thought about Wootie Hayes. Her messages had surprised me. I guess I had expected them to be sweet and sugary and packed with grandmotherly advice. Old Wootie was definitely a straight shooter.

As I started to walk up the driveway, a voice from behind interrupted my thoughts.

"Hey. It's Really Riley."

I didn't have to turn around to know whose voice it was. Randall "Trotter" Trotman caught up with me and started to walk along.

When Trotter moved into the neighborhood last year, I went over to introduce myself. After hearing my last name, he asked, "Really? Riley? Is it really Riley? Really?" It may have seemed clever at the time, but after about the billionth time, it had grown old.

"Hey, Trotter," I said, and kept walking.

"So how's my old buddy doing?" he asked, punching me on the arm.

I shrugged and answered, "Okay."

"You're late coming home from school today," said Trotter. He was carrying an open package of chocolate-chip cookies. Crumbs dotted his chin and the front of his shirt. Melted chocolate lined the corners of his mouth.

I wouldn't have accepted a cookie from Trotter, but I didn't have to worry. He didn't offer me one. Trotter could be in a room full of starving children and he wouldn't offer one. He's not known for being a humanitarian.

"I had to go someplace after school," I told him.

"Oh, that's right," he said. "Today's the day you started doing time at the police station. Too bad about that. I've been home practicing my lay-up shot."

Trotter grinned. I looked at him. He was a good six inches taller than me. His large round face with its wide-set eyes leered down at me like a giant floating balloon that I'd seen in a Thanksgiving Day parade.

The grin seemed frozen in time. It carried me back to the night of the accident. Trotter had been grinning and laughing and teasing. Then it had happened. The grin had turned to a look of panic, and he had run. Trotter had run, leaving me to handle everything. And now he was home playing basketball while I had to be cooped up in that tiny little room at the police station.

Trotter started for his house as I fished my key out of my jeans pocket.

"Hey, Riley," he called.

I turned around.

"What?" I asked.

"Say hi to my old pal Officer MacDougal for me."

Trotter laughed and shuffled away.

I went into the house and took off my jacket. As I hung it on its hook, I noticed a smear of chocolate on the left arm, where Trotter had punched me.

"Perfect. The stain of Trotter," I said to myself. I took the jacket to the kitchen sink to try to wash it out.


Thursday, September 16

< < 3:30 P. M. > >

Mitch: Hi, Wootie. It's Mitchell.

MapleG: So you CAN be on time if you try.

Mitch: Yes. How are things at Maple-LESS Grove?

MapleG: Ha! I like that. I'll have to remember it. Things are the same here. That's the problem. Every day is exactly the same as the one before it. I guess the plan is to bore us to death.

Mitch: That's how I feel about school some days.

MapleG: I used to feel that way, too. Now I'd give anything to be back in school. My favorite subject was spelling. I was the school champion in sixth grade. I went on to the countywide competition, but I was eliminated there. I still remember the word I missed. Divisible. I spelled it "a-b-l-e." I can see that you're a good speller, too.

Mitch: I guess so. My dad always used to ask me my spelling words while he was fixing dinner.

MapleG: Does he still?

Mitch: No. He's working over in Bowmansville for a few months. It's an hour away so he doesn't get back until almost seven o'clock most nights. I hang out and do my homework and stuff until he gets home.

MapleG: What does he do there?

Mitch: He's an assistant foreman at Harrington Radiator. He's filling in at the Bowmansville plant for a foreman who had some kind of surgery.

MapleG: You don't eat dinner until seven o'clock?

Mitch: It's not so bad. Dad leaves me a note telling what to get ready for dinner so that we can eat as soon as he gets home. After dinner we do the dishes together. Sometimes we play a few hands of gin rummy before bed.

MapleG: I like gin rummy, but my favorite card game is pinochle. In fact, Lou and I used to belong to a pinochle club with my sister Rose and her husband, Charlie. We played every Friday night. I miss it, and I miss them. They moved to Florida a few years ago. Lou and I visited them there, but I'm not crazy about the heat. I felt like a big slug the whole time I was there.

Mitch: Did you go to Disney World?

MapleG: No, but we did get to watch a space shuttle launch. It was great!

Mitch: My dad told me that when he was a kid, the whole school would go to the auditorium to watch the space launches on TV.

It occurred to me that I wasn't stopping as much to think of things to write. Having a conversation with Wootie wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be.

MapleG: Now that you mention it, I think my son's school did that, too. In fact, he wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up.

Mitch: How many kids do you have?

MapleG: Just Patrick. He's a history teacher over in Sherbrooke. That's about ninety miles from here. His wife teaches art there. I have two beautiful granddaughters, Carolyn and Julia.

Mitch: Do you get to see them very often?

MapleG: They come to see me once or twice a month, usually on Sundays. They've never missed a Thanksgiving at my house, either. That's another reason that I've got to get back home.

Mitch: How is your hip doing?

MapleG: It could be better, but it could be worse. Nurse Nag-alot says that it will probably take a long time to heal. She's just a little ray of sunshine, isn't she?

Mitch: Maybe you can prove her wrong.

MapleG: With pleasure.

Mitch: I've got to go now. Bye, Wootie.

MapleG: Bye, Mitchell.

< < 4:18 P. M. > >

Back at home I called Mrs. Cooper, our next-door neighbor, to tell her I was there. Last year I'd convinced Dad that I didn't need a baby-sitter after school anymore. He worked out a plan with Mrs. Cooper that I check in with her every day when I get home so that she knows I've arrived safely.

Dad's daily note was lying on the kitchen table. It always has three parts: instructions for dinner, a reminder to do my homework, and a trivia question. I'm supposed to have the answer to the question by the time Dad gets home from work.

The answer can usually be found in the dictionary or in the old set of encyclopedias that are in our living room bookcase. I've been trying to convince Dad that we need a computer. I can tell that he's considering it, but I think he's afraid that I'll spend all of my time after school on it. Anyway, Dad has been asking questions lately that require a little more legwork around the house. I've found recent answers in the phone book (What is the zip code for Bradford?) and even in my parents' wedding album (What color roses did your mother carry on her wedding day?).

Dad had weighted down the note with the salt shaker. I picked it up and read it.

Dear Mitchell,

1. We're having beef stew and salad tonight. Don't worry. I'll leave out the peas, since you always pick them out anyway. I'll put in more of those little onions that you like. Peel and cut up three carrots and wash the lettuce. I'll pick up some ice cream for dessert.

2. Don't forget to do your homework. Have you started your book report yet?

3. What was the name of Charles Lindbergh's airplane?

I changed into my sweat pants and grabbed a handful of cheese crackers from the cupboard. Dad had given me the new Hoops cartridge for my Electronic Gamester so I sat and played it at the kitchen table.

< < 5:04 P. M. > >

A little while later I looked at the clock. Dad wouldn't be home for another two hours. This was the time of day that I hated the most. I didn't feel like starting my homework, and there was nothing fun to do by myself. I felt like a prisoner in my own house.

I crumpled Dad's note into a ball and practiced throwing it into the wastepaper basket from different positions in the kitchen. Finally I decided that I'd better get started on my book report.

I worked on it for almost an hour. After that, I turned to Dad's question. This one seemed pretty cut-and-dried. I looked up Lindbergh in the encyclopedia, and sure enough, the answer was right in the caption of the photo. The airplane was called The Spirit of St. Louis.

Dad told me once that he has two reasons for his daily trivia question. First, he wants me to learn new things. Second, he wants me to be able to find answers by myself.

I know that there's a third reason, too. He wants to keep me out of trouble while he's not home.

< < 6:32 P. M. > >

I was finished with my homework. It was already dark outside, and Dad would be home in a little while. I went to the kitchen and washed the lettuce. The window over our sink looked out on our backyard. Beyond that was the yard of Mrs. Wheeler, our neighbor from the next street over.

I thought again of the accident and the knot in my stomach tightened. The confused, frightened look on Mrs. Wheeler's face that night still haunted me. I could be sitting in school or walking down the street and her face would appear in my thoughts. I peered out, straining to see if Mrs. Wheeler's lights were on. All I could see was the bright reflection of our kitchen light.

Raising the window, I heard the faint sound of a basketball being bounced from a few doors away. Trotter, I thought.

"It's not fair," I muttered. "It was all his fault."

I slammed the window shut. When I did, my own reflection stared back at me. I had to look away.


Tuesday, September 21

< < 3:31 P. M. > >

Mitch: Hi, Wootie.

MapleG: Hi, Mitchell.

Mitch: What's new?

MapleG: Oh, no you don't. I figured out after our last two chats how you keep asking me questions so that I'll ramble on, and then you don't have to write so much. So today it's my turn to ask questions and your turn to spill it. I'd like to know what happened.

Mitch: What happened when?

MapleG: You know very well what I'm talking about. It might make you feel better to tell me about it.


Excerpted from Doing Time Online by Jan Siebold. Copyright © 2002 Jan Siebold. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Doing Time Online 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A wonderful story about a young kid just trying to get his life back in order. I gave this book 4 stars becuse it is humerous and deep-felt all at the same time. Witty and inteligent!
Guest More than 1 year ago
In an era where the guilty party never wants to accept responsibility, Jan Siebold has created a believable character, an average kid, dealing with being in trouble and wanting to believe he isn't at fault. She mixes in the element of intergenerational realtionships, different perspectives and presto! instant discussion points for young adolescents. Perfect read aloud material.