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A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2010
“This honest and heartfelt look at elementary school is illustrated with occasional doodles that perfectly suit the book and audience.” —Kidsville News
“Justin Case, the new novel by Rachel Vail, might well be subtitled the wit and wisdom of a third-grade worrywart. By turns droll, sardonic, ironic, and even sophisticated, it chronicles the daily tribulations of life in the third-grade as told by its eponymous hero, who in the course of his school year discovers there is no heroism unless there is fear. And fear Justin has a-plenty, be it of his new dog Qwerty, his new teacher, sports, math, friends, jiggly Jell-O—or whatever—a lot comes his way, real and imagined. The writing is sharp, unpredictably clever, and establishes third-grade as a mine-field of the absurd—which is to say, real life.” —Avi, Newbery Medalist
“Vail employs easy, direct language in a rhythm and syntax that captures the essence of a charming, lovable and very believable boy. Readers transitioning to longer fiction will groan, sympathize and laugh out loud in delight. Absolutely marvelous.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
September 1, Tuesday
Okay, yes. I’m worried.
I can’t help it.
September 2, Wednesday
Seven days to go until the start of third grade. I can’t sleep. I’m not getting onto a good schedule. I’m still on a summer schedule. But worse.
Everybody else is asleep. Mom, Dad, Elizabeth—they’re all snoring, and I’m still up. Listening. To the silence.
It’s very loud, the silence in my room. I’m flopping around my bed, tangling in my blankets. My pajamas are starting to itch. My stuffed snake, Snakey, is giving me an evil look, like he might come to life and bite me.
I know that is not possible and I definitely don’t believe in stuff like that anymore.
Just in case, though, I’m now sitting up, with my heart pounding, throwing blankets on top of Snakey. It’s not working. I know he’s still in there, under my blankets, with his venomous stuffed teeth and glassy eyes.
I’m more awake than ever.
If I don’t get enough sleep, I am a disaster.
Sometimes I am a disaster anyway.
And I don’t just mean at ball sports.
September 3, Thursday
The class lists came—finally!
My new teacher is named Ms. Burns. I don’t think that sounds too good. Burns? She is brand-new to the school. I have no idea if she will be nice or mean, old or young, pretty or an evil witch.
Of course I don’t believe in evil witches.
At least, during the day I don’t.
My little sister, Elizabeth, is starting kindergarten. She got Ms. Amara, my old kindergarten teacher, the best teacher in the entire world.
If I could have Ms. Amara again, everything would be fine.
But I don’t.
So it’s not.
I have Ms. Burns, who could be anything. She could hate me. She might hate kids with curly hair or blue sneakers. (I should have gotten the white like Mom said to.) Ms. Burns could be a loud teacher. She could be a yeller.
Oh, I hope she is not a yeller.
Third grade will be horrible if I have a yeller for a teacher.
She might make us sit in rows. I might get seated behind my second-best friend, Noah, who is also on the list for Ms. Burns, and who has an extremely large head. If that happens I will never be able to see the board because of that large head of his.
I will fall behind and never catch up. Ms. Burns will think I am stupid. All because of Noah’s extremely large head. He will not be my second-best friend anymore, if that happens. I mean it. I hope he got a haircut at least. He has extremely large hair, too.
I have to call Noah and see if he got a haircut.
September 4, Friday
Noah’s family is away in Ohio so I got their machine.
Mom said to stop worrying about Noah’s hair. Obviously Mom never had a second-best friend as large-headed as Noah.
Unfortunately, Mom got the idea to cut my hair. She held up a mirror afterward and asked how I liked it. “I hate it,” I said, because I looked awful, like an athlete. I don’t want to look like an athlete. I want to look more like a journalist or a researcher, more messy. She said, “Oh, Justin.”
Elizabeth, who had been in the living room for most of my haircut before she twirled off somewhere, came back in with a big story clogging up her whole wet mouth. She stopped mid-sentence and asked me, “Who are you?” I told her not to be ridiculous, I was Justin, her brother, which she totally knew. She said, “You don’t look like Justin.”
I told her I had just gotten my hair cut, and that she knew that because she had seen me getting it cut and also I was still sitting on the stool with the black robe on me and my hair in drifts all around the floor.
She squinted and said, “Are you sure you’re Justin? You look more like an athlete.”
September 5, Saturday
We’re visiting Gingy and Poopsie for Labor Day weekend. Gingy and Poopsie are good grandparents except for a few things:
1. They have a cat. Cats walk like prowling predators, like they want to eat my toes for lunch. Even their cat, Mr. Stripes, who is so old his fur looks like it’s been through the washing machine.
2. Gingy makes Jell-O. Food shouldn’t jiggle, in my opinion.
3. Poopsie keeps yelling at Gingy, “Did you take your pills? Don’t forget to take your pills!” and also, “Did you give the kids their Jell-O? Give them some more Jell-O. Justin loves Jell-O!” Poopsie has trouble hearing so he yells all the time in case everybody else has the same problem.
4. We’re visiting them not at their house but at their beach condo, where we all have to sleep in the same room because that is the only room.
5. Everybody snores.
6. There could be sharks.
September 6, Sunday
There aren’t sharks.
But there is a LOT of Jell-O.
September 7, Monday
This morning I couldn’t find Wingnut.
I was not being overly dramatic. I was being underly dramatic. How would Gingy feel if she couldn’t find the thing she loves most in the world? I wasn’t being fresh; I was just asking.
Later, we found him. He had gotten mixed in with the laundry. Phew. Now Wingnut’s fur is a little more matted (like Mr. Stripes, but I didn’t say so) and he smells soapy, but I don’t care because at least he’s back. I’ve had him since I was born and he was a puppy. His ears aren’t silky on the insides anymore but I still like to rub them. I felt like not-me while he was gone.
When we got all the sand showered off us and slimy lotion gunked onto us (for our sunburns) and we went into town for dinner, I got the answer to my question.
Gingy would be annoyed if she lost what she most loves.
Poopsie wasn’t actually lost or mixed in with the laundry; he just didn’t realize we were being seated and he was reading a book about gardening in the bookstore while we all frantically looked for him so we could eat already.
Gingy called him some names I am not allowed to say.
September 8, Tuesday
Tomorrow is the first day of third grade.
Mom said to focus on the bright side.
Well, Xavier Schwartz is not in my class this year. That’s bright.
No. It’s not helping. I’m still focusing on the dark side.
Like what if Ms. Burns thinks boys and girls should never be partners? Some people think that, even some kids. If Ms. Burns thinks boys and girls have to hate each other, I will never get to be partners with Daisy, who is my best friend, who has shiny soft hair, a quiet voice, and a pet gecko.
So I am focusing on maybe Daisy and I will stop being best friends this year, even though we’re in the same class again for the fourth year in a row, all because she is a girl and I am a boy and maybe Ms. Burns will think we should hate that about each other.
A fire engine siren is blaring toward us. I have to decide fast whether to climb down my ladder and wake up my parents so we can evacuate and not get burned up. I’m losing precious seconds deciding.
Okay. The fire engine seems to have gone somewhere else.
Sometimes my heart pounds so hard it feels like it will break my ribs.
September 9, Wednesday
Elizabeth twirled in her first-day-of-kindergarten dress as Mom and Dad smiled proudly at her. Mom said, “I can’t believe our baby is going to kindergarten.” Dad put his arms around Mom and they hugged each other.
I didn’t hear anybody say, I can’t believe our older child is going to third grade, or hug each other about that. Instead Dad said, “Justin, why are you still in pajamas?” and then said the word hurry, like, ten times.
I hate the word hurry. It makes my stomach scrunch.
I ended up swallowing some toothpaste, which is not, in my opinion, an important part of a nutritious breakfast.
On our way to school, Elizabeth held hands with both my parents and swung between them. I was thinking maybe I’d just take a short break and sit on the sidewalk for about 100 years. But I didn’t. I kept going.
The way I am staying positive now is pretending I just nightmared the disaster that happened at school after I got to my classroom and that when I wake up, it will be the first day of third grade all over again.
September 10, Thursday
No such luck. It really happened.
Excerpted from Justin Case by Rachel Vail and Matthew Cordell.
Copyright © 2010 by Rachel Vail.
Published in 2010 by Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Excerpted from Justin Case by Rachel Vail Copyright © 2010 by Rachel Vail. Excerpted by permission.
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.
Questions for Discussion
1. Justin is described as a “worried kid.” What does it mean to be a worried kid? Do you have a lot of
worries? What worries do you have? Do you know anyone you consider a worried kid? Do you
know anybody who doesn’t seem to worry much at all?
2. Justin’s real name is Justin Krzeszewski (pronounced, She-shev-ski). Why is he nicknamed Justin
Case? Do you have a nickname? If you could choose any nickname for yourself, what would it be?
3. Why are Justin and his friends disappointed that Ms. Termini is their teacher? Do you think this is
fair? What do you think are important traits of a great teacher?
4. Montana C. and Justin are good friends. Why doesn’t she invite him to her Halloween party? And
why are they growing apart? (Justin even says he “hates/no thank you” Montana C.) Do you have
boys/girls as friends? What are the best things about being friends with a boy/girl?
5. Is Xavier Schwartz a good friend to Justin? How is their friendship different at the beginning of the
book and at the end?
6. Justin’s parents own a candy store. Does Justin think the store is fun? Would you like it if your
family owned a candy store? If not a candy store, what kind of store would be your dream business?
7. Have you ever given a speech in front of your class? Why do you think Justin is so nervous when he
has to speak? What are some good tips for speaking in public?
8. Justin and his mom run into one of his teachers, Ms. Burns, in the supermarket. Have you ever run
into one of your teachers outside of school? Describe what happened and how you felt.
9. Elizabeth, Justin’s little sister, seems very comfortable in kindergarten, while Justin is nervous in
third grade. What are your thoughts on why school seems easier for Elizabeth?
10. Gym is challenging for Justin. Why? Different people have different talents in school and outside of
school. Describe your talents, and then describe talents you would like to have.
11. Justin wants a dog so badly, but when Qwerty comes home, Justin is worried (and a little scared).
Why? Have you ever wanted a pet badly? How did it turn out?
12. The subtitle of this book is School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters. What would be the subtitle of your
Posted August 29, 2012
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Posted August 23, 2012
My son received this book as a part of the summer reading program. This
book is hilarious and fun! He doesn't like reading much but this book
took him in. I did my usual and started reading to him, but after just a
"few days" in the book...he said, "Can I read it
myself?" For him this book is silly and weird!
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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