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Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters

Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters

4.4 38
by Rachel Vail

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It's the start of the school year, and nothing feels right to Justin. He didn't get the teacher he wanted, he's not in the same class as his best friend, and his little sister, Elizabeth, is starting kindergarten at his school. Elizabeth doesn't seem nervous at all. Justin is very nervous about third grade. And to top it off, he's lost his favorite stuffed animal,


It's the start of the school year, and nothing feels right to Justin. He didn't get the teacher he wanted, he's not in the same class as his best friend, and his little sister, Elizabeth, is starting kindergarten at his school. Elizabeth doesn't seem nervous at all. Justin is very nervous about third grade. And to top it off, he's lost his favorite stuffed animal, but he can't tell anyone, because technically he's too old to still have stuffed animals. Right?

Here is third grade in all its complicated glory—the friendships, the fears, and the advanced math. Acclaimed author Rachel Vail captures third grade with a perfect pitch, and Matthew Cordell's line art is both humorous and touching. As Justin bravely tries to step out of his shell, he will step into readers' hearts.

Justin Case is a 2011 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Vail, who collaborated with Cordell on the picture book Righty and Lefty, creates an endearing portrait of a third-grade worrywart in this slice-of-life novel written in diary form. At the onset of the school year, Justin K. (later nicknamed Justin Case) is plagued with concerns about his new teacher, his new haircut, and the possibility of losing his best friend (“because she is a girl and I am a boy”). Some of his anxieties prove to be unwarranted, and the year offers surprises both good and bad. After battling loneliness (when his favorite stuffed animal is misplaced) and fears (about getting beaten up and having to climb the rope in gym class), Justin realizes he has attained his third-grade goal of becoming “a little braver this year.” If the young hero's mishaps go on a bit long, they are universally recognizable and distinguished by observations and details that consistently ring true, from being told to “shake it off” on the soccer field to the horrible realization that all the “good kids” got put in the other class. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 7-9. (May)
From the Publisher

“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

School Library Journal
Gr 2–4—Honest and full of heart, Justin Case is a story for an oft-ignored segment of kids: the sensitive, introverted, and observant. Those youngsters will see themselves in third grader Justin Krzeszewski, a full-blown worrywart with good intentions. He wants to be a good student. He wants to make friends. It's just that sometimes things don't work out, often with humorous results. Through his journal entries during the course of the year, readers see his changing friendships, embarrassments, a "be careful what you wish for" new pet, and the dreaded gym-class rope. His voice is authentic, and touches of playdates and "screen time" will ring true with today's youngsters. The format will remind many readers of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (Abrams), but with fewer illustrations and a more reflective tone than Jeff Kinney's series. Cordell's intermittent doodles pair nicely with the personal quality of the text. Readers who are looking for plot-driven excitement will have to look elsewhere. Justin Case is about the feelings that kids experience as they navigate the roller coaster of family and school life. This is subtly satisfying storytelling. No miraculous character overhauls—just a boy growing up and, hopefully, becoming a bit braver.—Travis Jonker, Dorr Elementary School, MI
Kirkus Reviews
Third grader Justin Case gets this nickname thanks to his amazing ability to worry about everything. His journal chronicles his nightmares and self-fulfilling prophecies of doom. He carries concerns about school, sports and friendships to wild extremes, and he creates a litany of characters and events that strike terror at every turn, from the imaginary robber Big Boy to his beloved stuffed animals, which wage a war over control of his bed, to the boiler at the way back of the basement-and anything else his incredibly active and freewheeling imagination can conjure. For him "there's always tomorrow for all the bad things that didn't happen today." He doesn't notice that he is also kind, dependable, tenacious and highly creative, as well as a very good friend and big brother. 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. (Fiction. 7-10)

Product Details

Feiwel & Friends
Publication date:
Justin Case Series , #1
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
7 - 9 Years

Read an Excerpt

Justin Case

School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters

By Rachel Vail

Feiwel and Friends

Copyright © 2010 Rachel Vail
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4663-6


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.

* * *

September 11, Friday

There was a mix-up. That's what the principal said the first day. A "mix-up." They put me on the wrong class list. He apologized to us, twice, then bustled down the hall to his air-conditioned office like it was no big deal.

So all that worrying about sitting behind my large-headed, large-haired second-best friend Noah was for nothing. Because I'm not even in his class. Or my best friend Daisy's class, either. Or Ms. Burns's class.

No. I am in the other class.

Ms. Burns, it turns out, does not look like a wicked witch. She looks, in fact, like the complete opposite of a wicked witch.

The opposite of the teacher I actually have.

Ms. Termini.

I am not even kidding. That is her real name.

Say it out loud and you will know why the only way for me to look on the bright side now is to hope maybe we will move soon.

I looked in the newspaper this afternoon for new jobs for my parents and I think there are some possibilities if they would just keep their minds open about New Jersey.

* * *

September 12, Saturday

Noah thinks he is in love with Ms. Burns.

There are 179 days left of third grade.

I may not make it.

Noah also said he read an article on the Internet that a kid was smashed into bits by falling off his top bunk bed. He said he sure is happy he doesn't sleep on a top bunk bed.

I don't even know why he is my second-best friend, sometimes.

No movement on New Jersey yet, despite all my arguments.

* * *

September 13, Sunday

It's Sunday so I am supposed to be relaxing.

I'm not.

First I had to move all my stuffties down to the bottom bunk bed.

Now I'm thinking about what my actual teacher, Ms. Termini, said when she closed the classroom door that first day, with me in her room instead of where I should have been, next door with Ms. Burns, who has hair down to her belt and also my two best friends in her class.

Ms. Termini said, "Good morning, students, and welcome to the first day of the rest of your life."

Everybody sat very still at that. Even Xavier Schwartz.

Then she said she had only two rules. She held up one long, bony finger and said, "Work quietly, with complete attention, concentration, and excitement about learning."

Then she lifted a second finger and said, "Treat yourselves, one another, me, and this classroom with respect at all times."

She asked, "Understand?" and looked right at me, like she doubted I did understand. I nodded so fast my head almost rolled off my neck, even though I had already forgotten both rules. They were too complicated. Each rule was like six rules rolled up into one.

I have spent the whole weekend so far trying to remember the rules and memorize them. Because Ms. Termini seems like the kind of teacher who might give us a quiz on her dumb rules. I keep writing them down as best as I can remember but they make less and less sense the harder I try.

* * *

September 14, Monday

She gave us a quiz.

It wasn't on her dumb rules, at least. It was on math. Math is my best subject.

I think I managed to get zero answers right anyway, because Mom made me wear shorts today because of the heat, so my thighs got stuck to the chair and when I tried to peel one off, it was only a partially successful peel.

I had to use all my concentration not to scream in agony.

So I had nothing left for math facts.

I may even have misspelled my last name, which is practically impossible to spell even on a good day: Krzeszewski. Today was not a good day. I think I might have added an extra Z or two in there somewhere. That happens sometimes when I get worried.

Most people just call me Justin K., because Krzeszewski looks like somebody fell asleep and their head rolled around on the computer keyboard.

I am thinking of asking Gingy and Poopsie if they would enjoy adopting me. Even Mr. Stripes and Jell-O would be better than this torture.

Also their last name is Jones.

* * *

September 15, Tuesday

Elizabeth is adjusting beautifully to kindergarten, I heard Mom brag to Gingy on the phone.

She didn't mention if I was adjusting beautifully to third grade.

And she doesn't even know about the gym teacher, Mr. Calabrio, whose muscles stretch his T-shirt out so it looks like a superhero costume. Mr. Calabrio has high expectations for third graders.

Gym is not my best subject.

Mr. Calabrio does not look like the type of guy you want to disappoint, though.

* * *

September 16, Wednesday

Ms. Termini showed us her sheet of Superstar stickers.

They are very rare. She got them in London, England.

Good behavior gets you a Superstar, in her class. The person with the most Superstars at the end of the month wins a prize.

I looked around at the other kids in the class. I knew most of them from the past few years of recess even if they weren't in my class before. I tried to figure out where I ranked of the 22 of us in terms of behavior. I decided maybe somewhere between nine and thirteen.

"Who wants to win the prize?" Ms. Termini asked.

"Me!" Xavier Schwartz shouted, jumping up from his seat.

"Then I suggest," said Ms. Termini, "that you not yell out."

Xavier Schwartz slumped back down into his chair with red circles firing up his cheeks. He's definitely number twenty-two.

"If you are ready to start an amazing third-grade year," whispered Ms. Termini, "raise your hand."

I wasn't sure if she meant raise your hand right now, or raise your hand in general instead of yelling out. I have to get good at peeking around.

* * *

September 17, Thursday

Ms. Burns doesn't give out Superstars for good behavior.

Unlike my teacher, Ms. Termini, Ms. Burns doesn't talk that much about behavior. Probably she doesn't have to, because all the good kids (except me) are in her class. Also, some of them, well, Noah, just sit and stare at her all day because they are (he is) in love with her.

It is disgusting. I couldn't eat my lunch at all because of how he was talking about her all lovesick. And I was very hungry.

My stomach was disruptive and could have gotten me put into time -out. I spent the afternoon hoping Ms. Termini does not have good hearing.

I still have zero Superstars.

Montana C. has three.

I hate Montana C.

* * *

September 18, Friday

Daisy ate lunch with Montana C. and Montana B. instead of with me.

Still no Superstars for me. Six of us have zero.

I am in the Xavier Schwartz group of Superstar Failures.

* * *

September 19, Saturday

My stuffed animals are having a war. Nobody is getting along at all. Wingnut has to sleep on my pillow to get away from the fighting, and Snakey, who had been sleeping on the Pillow of Honor (which I made at my cousin Lydia's birthday party last year) because he was the newest stuffty, is in time-out.

His job was to scare off bad guys.

He was scaring everybody else, instead.

And now because it is Mom and Dad's anniversary, they are out to dinner and Elizabeth and I have been left home with Tania, our babysitter, who likes to braid hair and polish fingernails and text her friends on her cell phone.

So now I am stuck in here, in the war zone, otherwise known as my bed, wondering why Mom and Dad are not home yet.

If I had Superstars to give out, my parents would not get any tonight, and too bad if that would hurt their feelings on their anniversary.

* * *

September 20, Sunday

I'm on a soccer team again.

Dad is the coach. Again.

I don't know where the man gets his hopefulness about my skills and their chances at improvement.

Obviously, not from reality.

* * *

September 21, Monday

Today at lunch I was sitting with Noah and Daisy and complaining just a little bit about Ms. Termini and her stupid Superstars. Daisy shrugged in a new kind of way and said, "We're not in kindergarten anymore, Justin. The teachers are just treating us like big kids is all."

Then she spent the rest of lunch talking with Montana C. and Montana B. about how cool it will be to learn cursive, and which letters they already know how to do, when we are not even supposed to know how to do any, yet.

Then they went out to the playground, just the three girls.

I hadn't even unpacked my lunch. I turned to Noah, who was chomping dreamily on his tuna sandwich, and said, "She used to eat slower."

"Ms. Burns?"

"No," I said. "Daisy. Forget it."

I opened my lunch. It was a cheddar cheese sandwich, a banana, pretzel sticks, and a bottle of water. The banana was all bruised and bashed up.

I knew just how it felt.


Excerpted from Justin Case by Rachel Vail. Copyright © 2010 Rachel Vail. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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.

Meet the Author

Rachel Vail is the author of children's books including Sometimes I'm Bombaloo and Righty and Lefty, in which she also collaborated with artist Matthew Cordell. She is also the author of several books for teens and middle grade readers, including If We Kiss, You Maybe, Gorgeous, Wonder, and Never Mind, which she wrote with Avi. Vail attended Georgetown University, where she earned her B.A. in English and Theater. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.

Matthew Cordell is author and illustrator of Trouble Gum. He has also illustrated books including Mighty Casey by James Preller and Toby and the Snowflakes, written by his wife, Julie Halpern. He lives outside of Chicago.

Rachel Vail is the author of children’s books including Justin Case, Sometimes I’m Bombaloo, and Righty and Lefty. She is also the author of several books for teens and middle grade readers, including If We Kiss, You Maybe, Gorgeous, Wonder, and Never Mind, which she wrote with Avi. Vail was born in New York City and grew up in New Rochelle, NY, just down the street from her future husband, though she didn't know that until much later. She attended Georgetown University, where she earned her B.A. in English and Theater. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.
Matthew Cordell is the illustrator of TOBY AND THE SNOWFLAKES (Houghton) written by his wife, Julie Halpern, and RIGHTY AND LEFTY (Scholastic, Fall 2007) written by Rachel Vail.

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Justin Case 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is funny for all ages. Highly recommend!
Sam Gonzalez More than 1 year ago
i just got it and cant wait to read it!!!!:)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was amazing
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought the book and i love it!
Mindbend More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I rememeber this book! Good read.
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nprgirl More than 1 year ago
Bought for my nephew on the recommendation of a friend's son who liked this book very much.
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Really good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nothing is better than this book. Its a fabulous book that everyone should read,
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