The School Story

The School Story

4.4 189
by Andrew Clements

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Twelve-year-old Natalie Nelson has written a powerful school story. It's a short novel called "The Cheater," and her best friend Zoe is certain it should be published. All Natalie has to do is give the manuscript to her mom, an editor at a big publishing house. However Natalie doesn't want any favors from her mom. Still, Zoe won't drop the idea.

Spurred into

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Twelve-year-old Natalie Nelson has written a powerful school story. It's a short novel called "The Cheater," and her best friend Zoe is certain it should be published. All Natalie has to do is give the manuscript to her mom, an editor at a big publishing house. However Natalie doesn't want any favors from her mom. Still, Zoe won't drop the idea.

Spurred into action, Natalie invents a pen name for herself and Zoe becomes a self-styled literary agent. But if the girls are to succeed, they'll need support from their wary English teacher, legal advice from Zoe's tough-talking father, and some clever maneuvering to outwit the overbearing editor in chief of Shipley Junior Books.

Andrew Clements, the best-selling author of Frindle, The Landry News, and The Janitor's Boy, delights his audience with this story of two irrepressible girls who use their talent, ingenuity, and a little cunning to try to make a young writer's dream come true.

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Editorial Reviews

Twelve-year-old Natalie Nelson has written a novel set at a school. Her best friend, Zoe, loves it and is convinced it should be published. Although Natalie's mother is a children's-book editor, Natalie hesitates to show her the manuscript. Zoe convinces Natalie to submit the novel to her mother under a pen name. When Mrs. Nelson shows an interest in publishing the work, Zoe, posing on the phone as an agent, drives a hard bargain—but Natalie starts to worry about the consequences of deceiving her mother. <%END%>
Publishers Weekly
In a starred review, PW called this book about a 12-year-old aspiring author a "standout. Indeed a `school story,' this is at heart a tale about the love between a father and a daughter." Ages 8-12. (Sept.)
Children's Literature
Natalie is writing a book—a good book. The problem is, how does a twelve-year-old girl get a book publisher to take her seriously? Her friend Zoe comes to the rescue by becoming her imaginative and surprisingly competent literary agent. Careful and credible plotting makes this unlikely adventure almost believable. Aspiring young writers will be particularly interested, but should understand that today's demanding market isn't likely to find a twelve-year-old to be professional enough to publish. Nevertheless, readers will be dying to find out if Natalie succeeds, and will gain a lot of accurate and interesting information about slush piles and the publishing industry. Minus the credibility problem, this is an engaging story, though the beginning chapters lack some of the immediate vitality of Clements' earlier works. Black-and-white drawings lend additional interest to the already strong characters. Reviewer: Betty Hicks
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6 Actress Spencer Kayden does a wonderful job reading Andrew Clements' upbeat story (S&S, 2001) about Natalie, a sixth grader who has written an amazing short novel with a school setting, The Cheater. Natalie's dynamic and enterprising friend, Zoe, thinks that the novel should be published. Natalie's dad died unexpectedly, and what moves Zoe about the story are the passages about the love between a father and child. She convinces Natalie to pursue publication. Taking on the pseudonym of Cassandra Day, enlisting the help of her English teacher, and passing Zoe off as her bold agent, Natalie sends the manuscript to the publishing company where her mother works as an editor. Clements includes facts about the children's book industry as the amusing yet surprisingly poignant story unfolds. Kayden handles the touching scenes between Natalie and her mother quite well, but really shines as the exuberant Zoe. This pushy and excitable character almost steamrolls the novel with her comic antics, but Clements knows instinctively when to pull back and let Natalie's story prevail. Although things work out a bit too easily for Natalie, Clements' empathy for the characters makes The School Story work. Kayden's reading is energetic and fun, especially when she tackles the story's comedy and brings to life various New Yorker types. -Brian E. Wilson, Evanston Public Library, IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A world-class charmer, Clements (The Janitor's Boy) woos aspiring young authors—as well as grown up publishers, editors, agents, parents, teachers, and even reviewers—with this tongue-in-cheek tale of a 12-year-old novelist's triumphant debut. Sparked by a chance comment of her mother's, a harried assistant editor for a (surely fictional) children's imprint, Natalie draws on deep reserves of feeling and writing talent to create a moving story about a troubled schoolgirl and her father. First, it moves her pushy friend Zoe, who decides that it has to be published; then it moves a timorous, second-year English teacher into helping Zoe set up a virtual literary agency; then, submitted pseudonymously, it moves Natalie's unsuspecting mother into peddling it to her waspish editor-in-chief. Depicting the world of children's publishing as a delicious mix of idealism and office politics, Clements squires the manuscript past slush pile and contract, the editing process, and initial buzz ("The Cheater grabs hold of your heart and never lets go," gushes Kirkus). Finally, in a tearful, joyous scene—carefully staged by Zoe, who turns out to be perfect agent material: cunning, loyal, devious, manipulative, utterly shameless—at the publication party, Natalie's identity is revealed as news cameras roll. Selznick's gnomic, realistic portraits at once reflect the tale's droll undertone and deftly capture each character's distinct personality. Terrific for flourishing school writing projects, this is practical as well as poignant. Indeed, it "grabs hold of yourheart and never lets go." (Fiction. 10-12)

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Product Details

Central Programs Inc
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.75(h) x (d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Fan Number One

Natalie couldn't take it. She peeked in the doorway of the school library, then turned, took six steps down the hall, turned, paced back, and stopped to look in at Zoe again. The suspense was torture.

Zoe was still reading. The first two chapters only added up to twelve pages. Natalie leaned against the door frame and chewed on her thumbnail. She thought, What's taking her so long?

Zoe could see Natalie out of the corner of her eye. She could feel all that nervous energy nudging at her, but Zoe wasn't about to be rushed. She always read slowly, and she liked it that way, especially when it was a good story. And this one was good.

The Cheater by Natalie Nelson

page 12

I catch up with Sean between Eighty-second and Eighty-first Streets. His legs are longer than mine, so I'm panting. I grab his arm and he stops in front of a bodega.

He says, "Why are you following me?"

"I've got to talk to you."

"Yeah, well, too bad. You had your chance to talk during the Penalty Board hearing. And you didn't."

"But if I told the truth, then the whole school would know I cheated. I'd get expelled."

He just looks at me. "But you really did cheat, right?...And I really didn't steal that answer key, right?...And you know I didn't steal it because you did, right?"

I nod yes to all the questions.

Sean is almost shouting now, his eyes wild. "So first you steal, then you cheat, and now you've lied. And me? You've left me to take the punishment."

The shopkeeper is worried. He moves from the counter to the doorway of the bodega, looking at us.

Sean ignores him and gets right into my face, screaming. "Well, guess what, Angela. We're not friends now -- and I don't know if we ever were!"

He storms away, hands jammed in his pockets, shoulders hunched, stabbing the sidewalk with every step.

Me, I cry.

Zoe let page twelve slip onto the table and then stared at it, deep in thought.

"So, what do you think?"

Natalie was right behind her, and Zoe jumped six inches. "Jeez, Natalie! Scare me to death! And you ruined a nice moment too."

"But what do you think? Is it any good?"

Zoe nodded. "I think it's very good."

"Really?" Natalie pulled out a chair and sat down, leaning forward. "I mean, you're not just saying that because we're best friends?"

Zoe shook her head. "No, I mean it. It's good. Like I can't wait to read the whole thing. Can you bring the rest tomorrow?"

Natalie smiled and reached into her backpack. She pulled out a blue folder with a rubber band around it. "Here. I've still got to write about five more chapters. I just needed to know if the beginning was any good, but you can read what I've got done if you want."

Zoe took the folder carefully and said, "This is great. But you are going to finish it, right? Do you know the whole story already -- like all the way to the end?"

Natalie said, "Not all the way to the end...but almost. I know how the end feels, but not exactly what happens -- at least, not yet."

Natalie's book had begun by accident on the bus with her mom late one afternoon back in September. Sixth grade was already three weeks old, and both she and her mom had settled into the routine of commuting together. It was a Friday afternoon, and they were going home on the 5:55 coach, thundering through the Lincoln Tunnel from New York City to Hoboken, New Jersey.

Her mom looked exhausted. Natalie studied the face tilted toward her on the headrest. It was a pretty face -- Prettier than mine, she thought. But there were little lines at the corners of her mother's eyes and mouth. Care lines, worry lines.

Natalie said, "Hard day, Mom?"

Eyes still closed, her mom smiled and nodded. "The editorial department met all day with the marketing department -- all day."

Natalie asked, "How come?" When her dad died, Natalie had decided she needed to talk to her mom more. Sometimes she pretended to be interested in her mom's work at the publishing company even when she wasn't. Like now.

Her mom said, "Well, the marketing people keep track of what kinds of books kids and parents and teachers are buying. Then they tell us, and we're supposed to make more books like the ones they think people will buy."

Natalie said, "Makes sense. So, what kinds of books do they want you to make?"

Hannah Nelson lifted her head off the seat back and turned toward Natalie. "Here's the summary of a six-hour meeting. Ready?"

Natalie nodded.

Her mom used a deep voice that sounded bossy. "People, we need to publish more adventure books, more series books, and more school stories." In her regular voice she said, "That was it. A six-hour meeting for something that could have gone into a one-page memo -- or a three-line E-mail."

Then Natalie asked, "What's a school story?"

"A school story is just what it sounds like -- it's a short novel about kids and stuff that happens mostly at school."

Natalie thought for a second and then said, "You mean like Dear Mr. Henshaw?"

And her mom said, "Exactly."

Then Natalie said to herself, Hey, who knows more about school than someone who's right there, five days a week, nine months a year? I bet I could write a school story.

And that was all it took. Natalie Nelson the novelist was born.

Or almost born. Her career as an author didn't officially spring to life until about four months later -- on that afternoon in the school library after Zoe read the first two chapters.

Because it's the same for every new author, for every new book. Somebody has to be the first to read it. Somebody has to be the first to say she likes it. Somebody has to be that first fan.

And of course, that was Zoe.

Text copyright © 2001 by Andrew Clements

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