Extra Credit

Overview

It isn't that Abby Carson can't do her schoolwork, it's just that she doesn't like doing it. And that means she's pretty much failing sixth grade. When a warning letter is sent home, Abby realizes that all her slacking off could cause her to be held back — for real! Unless she wants to repeat the sixth grade, she'll have to meet some specific conditions, including taking on an extra-credit project: find a pen pal in a foreign country. Simple enough (even for a girl who hates ...

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Extra Credit

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Overview

It isn't that Abby Carson can't do her schoolwork, it's just that she doesn't like doing it. And that means she's pretty much failing sixth grade. When a warning letter is sent home, Abby realizes that all her slacking off could cause her to be held back — for real! Unless she wants to repeat the sixth grade, she'll have to meet some specific conditions, including taking on an extra-credit project: find a pen pal in a foreign country. Simple enough (even for a girl who hates homework).

Abby's first letter arrives at a small school in Afghanistan, and Sadeed Bayat is chosen to be her pen pal....Well, kind of. He is the best writer, but he is also a boy, and in his village it is not appropriate for a boy to correspond with a girl. So his younger sister dictates and signs the letter. Until Sadeed decides what his sister is telling Abby isn't what he'd like Abby to know.

As letters flow back and forth between Illinois and Afghanistan, Abby and Sadeed discover that their letters are crossing more than an ocean. They are crossing a huge cultural divide and a minefield of different lifestyles and traditions. Their growing friendship is also becoming a growing problem for both communities, and some people are not happy. Suddenly things are not so simple.

2009 Parents' Choice Recommended Seal winner

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Clements (Frindle) successfully bridges two cultures in this timely and insightful dual-perspective story. When Abby learns that her teachers want her to repeat sixth grade, the Illinois girl pledges to improve her grades and complete an extra-credit pen pal project. Since her favorite pastime is scaling a climbing wall, she's fascinated by Afghanistan's mountainous terrain and sends a letter to a one-room school there requesting a pen pal. So it will reflect well on his village, the teacher decides that his best student, Sadeed, should reply, but with a letter supposedly written by his sister, since it's deemed improper for a boy to correspond with a girl. In chapters devoted to Sadeed and in his missives to Abby (which he eventually admits he's composing), the sensitive boy shares illuminating information about Afghan beliefs and traditions, as well as his own aspirations. Abby responds with similar candor and the two gain much from their correspondence-as will readers. Clements effectively broadens his canvas in this worthy addition to his oeuvre of school-themed novels. Ages 8-12. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Judy Crowder
Sixth grader Abby Carson has a big problem. All those months of slacking off on studying and homework could result in her being held back in sixth grade while classmates and friends pass her by. Only three things will save her: getting a B or better on all her subjects between now and the end of school, completing all her homework plus an extra credit project, which is finding a pen pal in another country. On the other side of the world, Sadeed Bayat, who lives in the hill country above Kabul, Afghanistan, also has a problem of sorts. Because he excels in English, he has been chosen to correspond with a pen pal in the USA, but because the culture states that it is scandalous for a boy to speak to a girl, he must go through his younger sister, Amira, so a long-distance correspondence between Abby and Sadeed begins. What starts out as a time consuming project for both results in hard-learned lessons in geography, friendship, and human nature that will change their lives. What is the biggest lesson for Abby and Sadeed? People are not that different, after all, good intentions or bad attitudes. The two also discover a new appreciation for their own surroundings, each through the eyes of the other. This is an important book, especially in the atmosphere of general distrust of foreigners here and throughout the world. Clements is a fine writer and captures teenage angst well. The full-page illustrations are lovely. Presenting the students' letters so that they look hand printed adds to the drama and realism. This book is very well done! Reviewer: Judy Crowder
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—A forced pen-pal exchange turns into an opportunity for real communication between Illinois sixth-grader Abby Carson and Sadeed Bayat, the best English-language student in his Afghan village. When Abby's first letter arrives in Bahar-Lan, 11-year-old Sadeed is asked by the elders to compose his sister Amira's reply; it isn't proper for a boy and girl to correspond with one another. But soon Sadeed can't resist telling Abby that it is he who has been writing to her. The third-person narrative alternates points of view, allowing for inclusion of intriguing details of both lives. Never a scholar, Abby prefers the woods behind her family's farm and the climbing wall in her school; in the afternoons, Sadeed works in his father's grain shop. In spite of their differences, Abby and Sadeed connect through their imaginations, and their earlier readings of Frog and Toad Are Friends. They learn, as Abby reports, that "people are simple, but the stuff going on around them can get complicated." Full-page pencil illustrations throughout add to the book's appeal. Clements offers readers an engaging and realistic school story and provides an evenhanded comparison between a Midwestern girl's lifestyle and a culture currently in the news.—Kathleen Isaacs, Children's Literature Specialist, Pasadena, MD
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416949299
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 6/23/2009
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 792,824
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 830L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Elliott has a BFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts. He has illustrated a number of book covers, and his work has been exhibited at the Society of Illustrators and the Art Directors Guild. Mark lives on a sheep farm in the Hudson Valley region of New York.

Andrew Clements is the author of the enormously popular Frindle. More than 10 million copies of his books have been sold, and he has been nominated for a multitude of state awards, including two Christopher Awards and an Edgar Award. His popular works include About Average, Troublemaker, Extra Credit, Lost and Found, No Talking, Room One, Lunch Money, and more. He is also the author of the Benjamin Pratt & the Keepers of the School series. He lives with his wife in Maine and has four grown children. Visit him at AndrewClements.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Extra Credit

CHAPTER 1

IN THE HILLS ABOVE KABUL
Sadeed knew he wasn’t supposed to be listening to the men talking in the next room. He also knew he wasn’t supposed to be peeking through the crack near the bottom of the old wooden door. But they had to be talking about him in there—why else would his teacher have invited him to the home of the headman of the village?

His teacher, Mahmood Jafari, had not told him much. “Please come to Akbar Khan’s house this afternoon at four. He and his councillors meet today, and I have to speak with them. And I may need you to be there.”

Sadeed thought perhaps his teacher was going to recommend him for a special honor. That wasn’t hard to imagine, not at all. Perhaps the village elders would award him a scholarship to one of the finest new schools in Kabul. He would wear blue trousers and a clean white shirt to classes every day, and he would have his own computer, and he would take his place as one of the future leaders of Afghanistan. His father and mother would be very proud of him. It would be a great opportunity. And Sadeed was certain he richly deserved it.

Through the crack in the door, Sadeed could see all seven men, sitting on cushions around a low table, sipping tea. An electric bulb hung overhead, and two wires ran across the ceiling to the gasoline generator outside. Mahmood was talking to Akbar Khan, but the teacher’s back was toward the door, and Sadeed couldn’t hear what he was saying.

When the teacher finished, someone Sadeed knew—Hassan Jaji—began to speak. Hassan stopped by his father’s shop in the village bazaar at least once a week, and he sometimes stayed awhile, telling stories about his time as a freedom fighter during the war with the Soviet Union. One day he had shown Sadeed where a Russian grenade had blown two fingers off his right hand.

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Interviews & Essays

A Message from the Author

Dear Friends,

The moment that salutation appears, you know what’s going on: It’s a letter, and someone hopes it has reached you.

We write a letter, send it off, and then we trust it arrives, hope it gets opened and read and thought about. It’s that way with a book as well, and my new novel, Extra Credit, is no exception. Plus, this book has a special kinship with letter writing: it’s built around a pen pal exchange between two sixth graders -- a girl from Illinois and a boy from Afghanistan.

Why Afghanistan?

For many years now during school author visits, I have asked a simple survey question to large groups of kids: “Raise a hand if you yourself own at least 2 books.” Almost all the hands go up. Then I ask, “How about 5 books? 10? 30? 50?” As the survey progresses, we are all amazed by how many hands are still in the air even at 50 or 75 books. And then I ask, “Imagine a similar group of kids in Afghanistan today, taking this same survey. Would as many hands go up? Why?” This has led to some great discussions about the ways that countries and cultures can differ.

About two years ago it was time to give my editor an idea sketch for a new novel, and, remembering my student surveys, I began wondering what a kid in America and one in Afghanistan might say to each other. And that’s when the characters and the story for Extra Credit began coming to life -- and at the same time, so did the idea of a pen pal correspondence.

I’ve always loved letters. I love getting one, and I love framing a reply. Part of what I enjoy is the pace. Email is fast food; an exchange of letters is fine dining. And now that I think a moment, letters have played pivotal roles in a number of my other novels as well, including Frindle, The Landry News, and The School Story.

In this novel I’m not trying to make a political point, not trying to stake out a position on a key issue of our day. I’m just trying to follow a couple of lives and tell a simple story as honestly as possible. However…I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I hope this story will prompt young readers and others to think about Central Asia in a new way. After all, I’m still a teacher at heart. Thanks for reading my letter, and a special thanks for all your hard work to nourish kids and families and reading. I hope to hear back from you soon.

Sincerely yours,

Andrew Clements

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Reading Group Guide

About the Book

It isn't that Abby Carson can't do her schoolwork; it's just that she doesn't like doing it. And that means she's pretty much failing sixth grade. When a warning letter is sent home, Abby realizes that all her slacking off could cause her to be held back — for real! Unless she wants to repeat the sixth grade, she'll have to meet some specific conditions, including taking on an extra-credit project: find a pen pal in a foreign country. Abby's first letter arrives at a small school in Afghanistan, and Sadeed Bayat is chosen to be her pen pal...Well, kind of. He is the best writer, but he is also a boy, and in his village it is not appropriate for a boy to correspond with a girl. So his younger sister dictates and signs the letter. Until Sadeed decides what his sister is telling Abby isn't what he'd like Abby to know...

Discussion Topics

Author Andrew Clements chose the state of Illinois in the United States and Afghanistan as the settings in Extra Credit. Why do you think Clements selected these locations? What kinds of differences between the two countries — cultural and otherwise — can you identify after reading the book?

On the first page of Extra Credit, Afghani student Sadeed thinks that his teacher is going to "recommend him for a special honor," but when he finds out that his teacher wants him to help write letters to a girl in America, he is very disappointed. Nevertheless, how does this letter writing eventually turn into a "special honor" for Sadeed?

The character of Abby is introduced in the story when she is climbing a rock wall in her school's gym. Are you surprised to find out that Abby is struggling in school after reading about her abilities on the rock wall? Despite her grades, do you believe that Abby is actually very smart? Why or why not?

As a class, have a discussion about Abby and Sadeed. Do Abby and Sadeed have similar personalities? Also, compare and contrast their everyday lives by talking about the following: their homes, their schools, their teachers and their parents. How are they alike and how are they different?

As pen pals, Abby, Sadeed, and Sadeed's sister Amira communicate the old fashioned way — by sending letters to each other in the mail. Why is this their only method of staying in touch? What are some conveniences Abby and her friends have in the U.S. that Sadeed and Amira do not have in Afghanistan?

The rock wall at Abby's school in Illinois and the mountains of Afghanistan are symbols in Extra Credit — they stand for something else. What do they represent?

Abby learns from Amira and Sadeed's letters that not all of the girls in their Afghanistan village are allowed to go to school. Amira is glad that her father "permits" her to go to school. How did this make you feel when you read this?

The connection between brothers and sisters is explored in Extra Credit. How is Sadeed's relationship with Amira different from Abby's relationship with her brother Tom?

In the novel, Sadeed writes to Abby that he only has one book in his home, and at his teacher has taken a chance by allowing him to read books that are not approved by the Ministry of Education in Afghanistan. What did you think about this?

Discuss how a writer uses "foreshadowing" in a book. How does Clements use foreshadowing throughout Extra Credit? Identify parts of the story where foreshadowing is present.

While reading this book, we learn that Abby and Sadeed are taking risks by communicating with one another. Why do you think Sadeed decides to correspond with Abby when he knows that it is forbidden? Do you think Abby realizes that her letters to Sadeed would create controversy at home and in Afghanistan?

When Abby gives her oral report on her project at the end of the book, her classmates look bored and uninterested. Imagine you are a student in Abby's class. Would you feel the same way about her report? Why or why not?

Abby is reluctant to do her extra credit assignment at first. But how was the project actually a good thing for her in the end?

By the end of the story, Abby and Sadeed have a greater understanding of each other's lives and cultures. After finishing the book, talk about what else you think Abby and Sadeed learned from exchanging letters.

Activities and Research

How much did your students know about the country of Afghanistan before reading Extra Credit? Find out more about this country. Research the history of Afghanistan, and talk about present-day life in this country. What problems does the country face today?

Start your own "Project Pen Pal" in your classroom! Encourage your students to find and communicate with their own pen pals. Conduct research on the Internet to find organizations that supply pen pal names and information. Then, after a few months of correspondence, create a bulletin board similar to Abby's. Display pen pal letters and other information from your class's new friends.

Talk about the significance of the small rock Sadeed sends to Abby from Afghanistan, and the dirt Abby sends from Illinois to Afghanistan. If your students had a pen pal in another country, what would they send to them to represent your hometown? Have everyone bring this item into school. It will be interesting to see if everyone brings in the same thing — or not!

Extra Credit is a book that celebrates the power of friendship. Have your students make a list of other books they have enjoyed that celebrate friendship, and share these lists with the class.

What would it be like to be a character in Extra Credit? Ask your students to imagine if they had the power to jump into this book. Would they be a friend of Abby, Sadeed, or someone else? Why?

Read Arnold Lobel's story Frog and Toad Are Friends with your students. After reading the story, ask you students why they think Clements chose this book to highlight in Extra Credit. Who in your class can identify more with Frog? And who is more like Toad?

Continue the story in Extra Credit after the book ends. Have your students write about what they think happens to Abby and Sadeed. Do Abby and Sadeed get back in touch again? Do they ever meet? What does the future hold for Abby and Sadeed? Compare and contrast everyone's thoughts.

This reading group guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2009

    How would you like to repeat sixth grade?

    Extra Credit
    Abby Carson has been having a little trouble with her grades from fourth grade to sixth grade (she's presently in sixth grade.) In February of sixth grade, Abby found out she probably will have to repeat sixth grade. But, she finds out that if she does all her homework in all her subjects (and an extra credit project in L. A.), she has a chance to go to seventh grade. Then, she finds out the project is to write to someone from where she lives (Illinois) to a small village by the city of Kabul in Afghanistan. The person she is writing to is Amira Bayat. But secretly, Amira's brother Sadeed is the real one writing the letters because he doesn't think what Amira is saying in her letters is important and because what Amira says isn't answering the questions that Abby is asking in her letters.

    Extra Credit is a book that is written by Andrew Clements and illustrated by Mark Elliott. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division published the book. The book was copyrighted in 2009. Extra Credit costs $16.99 in the United States. The theme of the book is it takes a lot of effort to set things right (as Abby did throughout the book with her grades.) Overall, it was a book with turns and twists.

    10 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 29, 2009

    Great Story

    This story allows 2 children to have a small window into each of their worlds. I loved the way he was able to help each child see their differences and appreicate all that they have and could have. I would recommend this to any family who are trying to help their children understand the struggle the Afgan children must face in order to do something as simple as write a letter. Many of us take this privledge for granted and if we did not have the communication highway where would we be? Clements has done an excellent job in showing children friendships can cross all borders and it is important to care for others and not just yourself.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 2, 2009

    loved it.

    I loved this book. It gives people a chance to learn what it is like in different cultures, and, in some cases, how lucky we are.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Sally Kruger aka "Readingjunky" for TeensReadToo.com

    Andrew Clements' novels are always a success in my opinion. Written for a middle grade audience, they are entertaining, inspirational, and educational, and EXTRA CREDIT is no exception.

    Just look closely at the cover and you will probably guess EXTRA CREDIT is a pen pal story, but it is not just any pen pal situation. Abby finds herself reluctantly writing a pen pal letter for extra credit. She is in danger of being held back in sixth grade again next year. Desperate to go on to junior high with her friends, she has promised to do all her homework and earn B's on all future tests this year so that she can leave the sixth grade behind.

    That is not quite enough for her language arts teacher. An extra credit project will also be required. That's where the letter writing comes in.

    Halfway around the globe from Illinois is Sadeed living in Afghanistan. His teacher has just asked him to assist his sister in writing a pen pal letter to a girl from America. That girl is Abby.

    What follows is the development of an unusual friendship and a learning experience like no other. Both young people are introduced to a culture completely different from their own, and the reactions that arise leave them both confused about the intolerant beliefs that surround them.

    The possibilities for EXTRA CREDIT are endless. It could be used as a discussion starter in classrooms involving current events, different cultures, letter writing, and so much more.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 30, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Extra Credit

    The book is about a pen pal relationship that goes through the Mid-West United States to Afghanistan. So, after reading the book I thought about starting a pen pal relationship with some of my family in India. The book is really good! I think you should read it. It is about a girl who in order to get into the next grade is to complete an extra credit program which is completing a pen pals program with an Afghani boy the story is good and takes in the problems with the Afghani Government. I rate it 8.5 out of 10 stars.

    2 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2010

    Extra Credit

    My 10 year old grandson read Andrew Clements in class. The class wrote letters to him and my grandson received a signed bookmark and was thrilled beyond words and now is reading Extra Credit and sharing it with his class mates.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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