5.0 1
by Graham Mcnamee

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Last year Todd was the smartest kid in Special Needs; this year, he was promoted to the regular fifth-grade class, where they call him “Retardo” and “Braindead.” He’s really trying to keep up, but he’s in danger of being sent back to Needs. Then a history project about the pygmy Ota Benga inspires Todd to use his secret…  See more details below


Last year Todd was the smartest kid in Special Needs; this year, he was promoted to the regular fifth-grade class, where they call him “Retardo” and “Braindead.” He’s really trying to keep up, but he’s in danger of being sent back to Needs. Then a history project about the pygmy Ota Benga inspires Todd to use his secret strength–imagination.

Being promoted also meant Todd had to leave his pals behind in Special Needs, even his best friend, Eva. Why can’t Eva understand that they can’t be friends anymore? Why can’t he stop missing her? What’s the right answer to that?

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
A boy promoted from a special-needs fourth-grade class to the "real fifth-grade" is determined not to flunk. "Todd's earnest narrative reveals his heartrending determination, and his sense of humor belies his inherent intelligence," wrote PW in a starred review. Ages 7-10. (Dec.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Todd is a fifth grader who has always been a slow learner in school. After he shows improvement in the fourth-grade special needs class, his teachers decide to allow Todd to join the regular fifth-grade class. Todd tries hard to keep up with his class, but he falls behind, for which his peers tease him. Todd worries about talking to his old friends from the special needs class because of what his new classmates will think. When Todd's teacher assigns a history project, he realizes that he can succeed in school by using his imagination as a tool. This novel not only contains a positive message about success, but it is also entertaining and funny. A sympathetic character, Todd is one with whom many children can identify since his struggles with friends and school are common. The author sends an encouraging message about creativity and true friendship. 2002, Dell Yearling, Ages 9 to 12.
—Kate Walker
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-Todd Foster, aka Gump, Mr. Retardo, Basket Case, and the Drooling Idiot, was in a special-needs class where he was the smartest kid in the room, but now he is back in a regular fifth-grade program and trying to succeed. But he just cannot seem to catch a break, to "grow a brain." His sister taunts him, his classmates tease him, and his teacher is doubtful of his staying power. Todd is overwhelmed by the constant assault of jeers and bad grades, and his parents appear to be oblivious to his struggle. The only person on his side is Eva, a former special-needs classmate. She is a happy, giving soul who likes Todd as he is, yet he shuns her for fear of further ridicule from others. Things pick up for him with an assignment on the life and times of Ota Benga, a Pygmy tribesman who was on display at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. Todd ultimately succeeds by using his imagination and applying himself to the task at hand. While on this high, he reclaims Eva as his friend and surmounts the insults. McNamee crafts a warm and humorous story about a boy's struggle to overcome his learning difficulties and his own self-doubt. A solid choice for any reader, but especially reluctant ones.-Alison Grant, West Bloomfield Township Public Library, MI Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Todd Foster's fifth-grade classmates call him a range of insulting nicknames from Gump (after Forrest Gump) to Retardo. Todd discovers that being promoted from the Special Needs classroom, where he was the smart kid, to the regular fifth-grade classroom has drawbacks. In addition to the humiliating name-calling and the difficult subject matter that Todd struggles to master, there is the issue of his best friend Eva from Special Needs. Now that he is in the big leagues, can Todd afford to be seen with the sometimes overly exuberant Eva in her rose-colored glasses? Although prone to wistfulness about the kinder, gentler Special Needs classroom, Todd is determined to make it in the regular fifth grade. When Todd's imaginative history paper earns him a grade of B, his best grade ever, he realizes that Eva is the one he wants to share the good news with and decides to make amends for having spent the first two months of school avoiding her. Good-natured Todd faces his limitations with equanimity and humor, but not without a certain amount of frustration, as when he reacts to his teacher giving him four weeks to bring his grades up with the comment, "I've spent my whole life being an idiot. What can I do in four weeks?" McNamee (Nothing Wrong with a Three-Legged Dog, 2000, etc.) succeeds in making Todd an endearing and believable character. This sweet story sparkles with wit and warmth. (Fiction. 8-11)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.14(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.33(d)
Age Range:
7 - 10 Years

Read an Excerpt


My mouse died yesterday. He was white with pink eyes and he once ate a whole grape in one sitting. I remember thinking how impossible it was for him to finish that grape--I mean it was half the size of his head. It took him ten minutes. Then he washed up for ten minutes. Then he went to sleep. I loved watching him, even when his cage smelled bad. His name was Psycho, named after a movie my parents won't let me see.

This morning at breakfast I tell Mom the grape-eating story.

"It would be like me eating a whole watermelon," I say.

My sister, Christie, flicks a Froot Loop at me from across the table. It hits me in the forehead and makes me blink. She has good aim.

"I'd pay to see that," Christie says.

She really bugs me. She once stuck an apple seed so deep into my ear, I had to go to the emergency room. Every time she comes near me I blink like she's going to hit me, which she sometimes does.

But she did give me one of her jewelry boxes to bury Psycho in. It had blue velvet lining. He's buried in the backyard, under the tree for shade.

I look down at my cereal. The Froot Loop landed in my Frosted Flakes. It looks lost, a Loop all alone in the middle of all those Flakes.

"Eat up, Melonhead," Christie tells me.

"Someday I'm going to eat a whole watermelon. Then you'll be sorry," I say. But even before I finish saying it I hear how stupid that sounds. Inside my head it sounded a lot better, like something the President might say.

She shakes her head. "Just keep those fingers jammed up your nose so your brain doesn't leak out."

Christie's a genius. Shealways knows what to say.

Last night, Dad told me how mice only live a year or two. I got Psycho over a year ago for my ninth birthday. If I'd known he was going to die, I would have given him an extra raisin for breakfast.

It was weird trying to fall asleep last night without the squeaking of Psycho's exercise wheel spinning. He probably ran a thousand miles inside that cage. I kept waking up thinking I heard his wheel.

But I must have been dreaming.

By the time I think about all this stuff, my cereal has sunk. It's way too soggy to eat now. Only the Loop is still floating.

Mom takes my bowl away.

"Countdown," she says. "Five minutes and counting."

Every morning there's the countdown for the school bus. On TV they have countdowns for the space shuttle, or for when a bomb's going to go off.

But when I leave the house there's never a space shuttle at the curb, just the bus waiting for me to get on before it explodes.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Meet the Author

Graham McNamee is the author of three novels. His novel Sparks won the first PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship.

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