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Tank Talbott's Guide to Girls

Tank Talbott's Guide to Girls

by Dori Hillestad Butler

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Tank’s summer is not shaping up the way he’d hoped. It’s bad enough that his three stepsisters will be sharing his cramped house for the summer vacation. Then he finds out that he has to work with a math tutor every day and fill a big notebook with his writing—just to pass fifth grade! Tank wishes he could just sell his friend Jason’s


Tank’s summer is not shaping up the way he’d hoped. It’s bad enough that his three stepsisters will be sharing his cramped house for the summer vacation. Then he finds out that he has to work with a math tutor every day and fill a big notebook with his writing—just to pass fifth grade! Tank wishes he could just sell his friend Jason’s movie script to Hollywood. After all, Tank is Jason’s agent. But passing fifth grade is a big deal, too, and soon, inspired by his brother’s breakup with Jason’s sister, Tank realizes he can fill his notebook writing a guide to girls. It will be a bestseller! Tank has plenty of material to work with—his three stepsisters and Jason’s strange new interest in Kelly, the Mistress of Evil.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Tank Talbott wants to spend the summer marketing his best friend Jason's screenplay to big Hollywood producers. Unfortunately, his teacher has other ideas. Threatened with the possibility of flunking fifth grade, Tank must spend two hours each and every day with a math tutor. Plus he has to completely fill the pages of his journal by summer's end. If he fails at either one of these tasks, then he will not be going on to middle school with his classmates in the fall. To top it all off, Tank's three stepsisters are coming to stay for the whole summer. With hours of math, a grueling writing assignment, and gross girls monopolizing his time, how will Tank ever survive the summer? When Jason's older brother breaks up with his girlfriend, saying that if someone wrote an instruction manual on girls it was sure to be a best seller, Tank rises to the occasion. He begins filling the pages of his journal with the answers to burning questions, such as why do girls always go to the bathroom in pairs, or why can't girls ever shut up? Tank decides to share his writing at the library's summer writing club. His stepsister, Mollie, retaliates by writing up her guide to boys, and the battle of the sexes begins. Touching on the universal themes of friendship, sibling relationships, and adolescent angst with creativity and humor, this story is sure to be a hit with readers. 2006, Albert Whitman and Company, Ages 10 to 12.
—Pat Trattles
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-This sequel to Trading Places with Tank Talbott (Albert Whitman, 2003) stands on its own. Here, the irrepressible youngster is threatened with flunking fifth grade unless he puts in some serious summer-school effort. Only two hours daily of math tutoring and heavy journal writing can save him from humiliation. Of course, keeping his academic sufferings secret from his best buddy and good-guy role model, Jason, proves increasingly difficult as Tank's three stepsisters arrive for the summer. Mollie, who is the same age, is his particular nemesis, and his efforts to live down his reputation as bully and troublemaker grow harder in the face of her attempts to sabotage him. He has matured a lot since becoming friends with Jason, but family issues, including his former stepfather's abusive behavior, have complicated his up-hill battle to redeem himself. Readers will relate to this painfully honest portrayal of growing up as seen from a believable 11-year-old boy's perspective. Tank's inspirational idea of writing a "Guide to Girls" for his assignment provides lots of humor, and well-realized interactions between contemporaries and siblings add interest. Tank learns to appreciate the value of friendship and begins to deal more effectively with his problems as he negotiates the roadblocks in his path and moves on to middle school.-Quinby Frank, formerly at Green Hedges School, Vienna, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"Readers will relate to this painfully honest portrayal of growing up as seen from a believable 11-year-old boy's perspective."

School Library Journal

Product Details

Whitman, Albert & Company
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
827 KB
Age Range:
8 - 11 Years

Read an Excerpt

Tank Talbott's Guide to Girls

By Dori Hillestad Butler


Copyright © 2006 Dori Hillestad Butler
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-7124-5


The Big Meeting

It had been sixty-two days since Tank Talbott's last fight, yet once again he found himself slouching against the hard wood bench outside the principal's office.

May as well get comfortable, he thought as he lay down on the bench and propped his feet up against the wall.

He'd been ordered to wait here while his mom, his stepdad, Dennis, his teacher, the principal, the school counselor, and the school social worker met in the conference room next door to the principal's office. Tank had never even met the school social worker before. It didn't seem right that people Tank didn't know got to decide what should happen to him while he himself was stuck out here on the bench.

"Feet off the wall, Mr. Talbott." Mrs. Grisham frowned at him over the top of her computer monitor. Mrs. Grisham was the school secretary. She always called people by their last names. Tank would've thought he'd spent enough time in here over the last six years to be on a first name basis with Mrs. Grisham. But then again, Tank happened to know that Mrs. Grisham's first name was Pris. People named Pris probably weren't on a first-name basis with anyone.

"Mr. Talbott?" Mrs. Grisham said again. She gestured toward his feet.

With a heavy sigh, Tank plunked one foot down on the bench, then the other. Then he slowly raised himself up onto his elbow.

"Hey, Mrs. G.! Would it absolutely kill you to call me Tank?"

Mrs. Grisham adjusted her glasses. "If I were to call you anything other than Mr. Talbott, I would call you Thomas," she declared. Which only proved how much time Tank spent in this office. He could count on one hand the number of people who knew his first name was really Thomas.

"Okay, you can call me Mr. Talbott," Tank said quickly. "But you're the only one who can, Mrs. G. Doesn't that make you feel special?"

Mrs. Grisham gave Tank a long look, then went back to whatever she was doing on her computer.

Tank glanced up at the clock. 4:10. How long were these people going to talk, anyway? Tank's buddy Jason was probably waiting for him outside. Tank had told Jason not to wait. He didn't want Jason to know what was really going on in here, so he'd told him he had to talk to Mr. Burns about a school assignment (which wasn't exactly a lie) and that it might take a while. Unfortunately, Jason had said he didn't mind waiting.

Jason was probably sitting on the front steps of the school, hard at work on The Dagmablob Returns, his new movie script. The Dagmablob Returns was the sequel to The Dagmablob, Jason's first movie script.

Tank had no doubt in his mind The Dagmablob would one day be shown in theaters all across the country. And Tank would be partly responsible for that.

Tank was Jason's agent. His job was to: 1) find someone to produce Jason's movie script and 2) make sure Jason didn't get ripped off in the process. He and Jason would split everything fifty-fifty. Too bad some of those people in Hollywood didn't recognize a blockbuster when they saw one. Tank had sent Jason's script off to several real live movie producers and surprisingly enough, none of them had snapped it up. But neither Tank nor Jason was going to let a little rejection stop him. Tank kept sending the script out again as soon as it came back, and meanwhile, Jason had started a new script.

Tank hoped that Jason was so caught up in his new project right now that he didn't realize how long it was taking Tank to come out of school. The last thing he needed was for Jason to come looking for him.

Finally at 4:16, the door to Mrs. Meed's office swung open. "Okay, Tank," Mrs. Meed stuck her head out and smiled. Why would she smile at a time like this? "You can come in now."

"About time," Tank muttered as he dragged himself to his feet and followed Mrs. Meed inside her office.

Six very serious grown-ups were seated around a long, oval table. They all looked up when Tank walked into the room. Tank's mother had that I-don't-understand-what-I-did-wrong-with-this-boy look on her face. Dennis's look said just-wait-until-we-get-home-Mister! Tank wasn't afraid of Dennis. But he was a little bit afraid of his mom. And at the moment, he was very afraid of Mrs. Meed.

But Tank lifted his shoulders a couple times and tried to look cool. The key to success was: never let them see you sweat. Tank had read that somewhere. It may have even been in a book. These people could not say that Tank never read books.

"Sit down, Tank." Mrs. Meed gestured toward an open seat at the end of the table.

Tank sat. These people could not say that Tank never did what he was told, either.

"As you know, we're all concerned about your schoolwork," Mrs. Meed told Tank as she eased herself into the chair beside him. Tank kept his eyes glued to the ink dragon he'd started drawing on his jeans two days ago. It was a pretty good dragon, one of the best he'd ever drawn. It had realistic-looking scales, sharp teeth, and scary-looking eyes —

"Mr. Burns says there's a lot of work that you haven't turned in," Mrs. Meed went on. "And much of the work that you have turned in just isn't at the level that it should be."

Translation: We think you are lazy and stupid.

"I'm sure you know we've been talking about holding you back next year," Mrs. Meed said. "Having you repeat fifth grade. How do you feel about that?"

Tank raised his eyes enough to glare at Mrs. Meed and the other five people who were seated around the table. How did they think he felt about being held back? I feel great about it. Just great.

"Tank?" the counselor, Ms. Biggs, leaned forward as though she was trying to peer inside his brain. "How do you feel?"

Tank shrugged. What did it matter how he felt? They were going to do whatever they wanted no matter how he felt about it.

"It's clear from your Iowa Test of Basic Skills that you need some outside help with your math," Mrs. Meed said. "And don't worry, we're going to get you the help you need."

Tank slouched down in his seat.

"But your reading seems to be improving. And Mr. Burns says your writing is coming along, too."

Tank lifted an eyebrow. Mr. Burns said that?

"That's right," Mr. Burns agreed, "when you bother to do the assignments. You've got a lot of interesting ideas, Tank. A lot of potential. Your compare-and-contrast essay on the differences between boys and girls was most entertaining."

Now Mom raised an eyebrow.

What could Tank say? Writing about the differences between boys and girls was way more interesting than writing book reports, or directions for how to make a peanut-butter sandwich, or all those other stupid assignments Mr. Burns came up with. Tank knew he couldn't spell or do grammar very well, but it was nice to know Mr. Burns thought he had good ideas.

"I really don't want to see you repeat fifth grade, Tank," Mrs. Meed said.

Translation: I am old and having you at this school is bad for my heart.

"And I don't think it's necessary to hold you back," Mrs. Meed went on. "So, the six of us have come up with a plan to help prepare you for middle school. We've got a contract here that I will sign, Mr. Burns will sign, your parents will sign, and you will sign."

Mrs. Meed handed Tank a sheet of paper titled Learning Contract for Tank Talbott. "If you do everything that's in the contract — and I mean everything, Tank, then, you will be allowed to go on to middle school with the rest of your classmates. Is that clear?"

"What's in the contract?" Tank asked suspiciously.

"Well, if you'll take a look, you'll see that you'll be spending a couple hours a day with a math tutor this summer," Mrs. Meed said.

"A couple hours a day? Every day?" Tank cried. He looked at the paper.

Yup. That was what the contract said, all right:

1. Tank will work one-on-one with a math tutor (to be provided by the school district) every day, Monday through Friday (time to be deter mined).

2. Tank will show up on time.

3. Tank will behave appropriately.

4. Tank will do all assignments.

5. Tank will show academic growth in the area of mathematics.

"So, is that it?" Tank asked. "I get a math tutor and then I pass sixth grade?"

"At the end of the summer, your tutor will make a recommendation based on how you've done with the assignments and tests. This person will decide whether you're ready for sixth-grade math."

"Now if you'll turn the contract over, Tank, you'll notice there is one more thing you need to do if you want to pass fifth grade," Mr. Burns said.

Tank turned the paper over:

6. Tank will complete writing assignment.

"What writing assignment?" Tank asked.

"My writing assignment," Mr. Burns said. He slid a blue spiral notebook across the table to Tank. "I want you to write in this book every day."

Tank opened the notebook. It was blank. "Write what? Boring stuff like 'what I learned on my summer vacation'?"

"Anything you want. The only requirement is that you fill every page in this notebook by the end of the summer."

"Every page!" Tank cried. There were at least eighty pages in that notebook. And only three months of summer vacation. That was like ... a whole page almost every day. No way could Tank do that.

"We'll meet again at the end of the summer," Mrs. Meed said. "If the tutor thinks you're ready for sixth-grade math, and this notebook is full, you'll pass fifth grade. If those conditions are not met, then we'll see you back here this fall. It's as simple as that."

Tank groaned. A private math class every day? An entire notebook full of writing? Where was the vacation in "summer vacation?"

"Do you understand what's expected of you, Tank?" Mrs. Meed asked.

"Yes," Tank said in a low voice.

"Good. Then sign the contract."

Tank signed it. Then his mom signed it. Mr. Burns signed it. And even though there wasn't a line for her, Mrs. Meed signed it, too.

"You will not flunk fifth grade, Tank," Mom said as they all stood up to leave.

Tank wasn't so sure about that.


Tank Talbott's Guide to Girls

Yup. Just as Tank suspected, Jason was stretched out on the front steps of the school. But even before Tank got outside, he could tell that Jason wasn't working on his movie script. And he wasn't alone. That Mistress of Evil, Kelly Sears, and her trusty sidekick, Brandi Worth, were buzzing around Jason like a couple of flies.

What was it about Jason that attracted insects like Kelly and Brandi? Jason wasn't any uglier than Tank. In fact, Tank and Jason looked sort of alike. They were both tall and husky, both had dark hair and dark eyes. But Jason wore glasses. Tank didn't.

Why did Jason put up with Kelly and Brandi? They were evil. They always chased Tank and Jason during recess, and they got other girls to chase them, too. They tried to make Tank and Jason their slaves. Sometimes they even made prank phone calls to Tank or Jason from pay phones (Tank always knew it was them). Tank tried to get Jason to understand he didn't have to be nice to them, but Jason was the kind of guy who couldn't help being nice to everyone.

"Let's go, Tank," his stepdad said, giving Tank a little nudge. "I need to get back to work."

Tank didn't know why Dennis took time off work to come to this meeting, anyway. His mom could've handled it. But Dennis always went to everything that Mom went to.

Tank pushed open the door and strode out the building ahead of his parents.

Ew! Tank fanned the air in front of his nose as a cloud of perfume wafted over. Why did girls always smell like they took a bath in perfume?

"Don't be rude, Tank," Mom said under her breath. Then she smiled at Jason and those evil girls. "Hello, Jason. Girls."

Three heads swiveled around and glanced up at them. "Hey, Tank. Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Conway," Jason said, closing the notebook on his lap.

Jason hadn't let those girls read the script, had he? Tank wondered. It was their script. His and Jason's.

"What are you doing here so late, Tank?" The Mistress of Evil eyed him up and down. "Are those your parents?" She cocked her head. "Are you in trouble again?"

"No!" Tank said right away, hoping his folks wouldn't mention what they were doing here at school.

"Then why are your parents here?" Brandi asked.

"None of your business!" Tank said. "Hey, Mom, can I walk home with Jason? Just Jason," he said with a pointed look at the girls.

"I don't think so, Tank," Mom said. "We have things to do tonight."

Translation: We are not finished discussing this meeting.

"But we can give Jason a ride home if he'd like one," Mom offered.

"Sure," Jason said. He grabbed his notebook. "See you." He waved to the girls.

Dennis unlocked the van, and Tank and Jason crawled all the way to the back bench and plopped down. "What were you doing with the Mistress of Evil and her sidekick?" Tank asked.

"We were just talking. Kelly said —"

Who cared what Kelly said? "Jason, they're girls," Tank interrupted. "We don't talk to girls."

Jason laughed. "What do you mean we don't talk to girls? Girls are people, too, you know."

Tank snorted. He did not know any girls who were people. Except maybe his mom. And that depended on the day.

"How about you?" Jason asked, changing the subject. "What kind of meeting were you having with Mr. Burns? Why were your parents there?"

It was going to be harder to dodge that question with Jason than it had been with those girls. "I was just setting up an extra-credit project for over the summer." Never let them see you sweat.

"Extra credit? You?"

Tank glared at Jason. Just because they were friends now did not mean that Tank couldn't smack Jason if he had to. "Yeah, me. Why not?"

"Okay," Jason said. "So, what exactly is this extra-credit project?"


"Come on. Tell me."

"It's ... a writing thing."

Jason perked up. "What kind of writing thing?"

"A book." That sounded good. And it wasn't a lie. "I'm going to write a book over the summer."

"What kind of book?"

"I don't know yet."

"Well, that's great, Tank," Jason said. "If you're getting into writing, too, then you should come to the writing club at the library with me this summer."

"You have a writing club?" This was the first Tank had heard of it.

"Yeah. It's just for kids. And it's just starting up this summer. Kelly told me about it."

"Oh," Tank said. "I suppose that means the Mistress of Evil is doing it, too?"

"She and Brandi are both doing it," Jason said. "That's what we were talking about when you came out."

By this time, they had reached Jason's house.

"Think about it," Jason said as he unbuckled his seat belt. "The group meets every Monday afternoon for six weeks. It'd be cool if we could go together."

It would be even cooler if the Mistress of Evil wasn't going to be there. "I'll think about it," Tank said.

* * *

"Any messages for me?" Tank asked when they got home.

"No," Mom replied.

"Any mail?" Tank asked. He should be hearing back from these Hollywood people any day now.

"No!" Mom said, as though Tank was just an ordinary fifth grader rather than a movie agent.

Mom pointed to a kitchen chair. "Sit, Tank."

Dennis came over and stood next to Mom. The two of them stood with their arms crossed like a couple of security guards.

Tank sat.

"Now, just so we understand each other," Mom began. "You are not going to fail fifth grade, Tank! It's not going to happen."

Had Mom been at the same meeting as Tank? Because it sounded to Tank as though flunking fifth grade could definitely happen.

Mom paced back and forth in front of Tank. "You're going to go to your math classes and you're going to do your assignments. Dennis will check them every night."

"That's right," Dennis piped up.

"You're going to write in that notebook every day," Mom continued. "And you're not going to even think about turning on the TV or the computer or going over to Jason's house until your schoolwork is done. Do you understand?"

Translation: You will have no life this summer. None whatsoever.

"Your mother's talking to you, Tank," Dennis said. "She deserves an answer."

"Yeah, yeah," Tank said. Hadn't he already said he'd do all that? Hadn't he signed a paper promising he'd do it? What else did they need? A signature in blood?

Boy, things sure were different around Tank's house now that Harry (Tank's last stepfather) was out of the picture and Dennis (Tank's new stepfather) was in the picture. Back when Mom was married to Harry, nobody cared much about Tank's schoolwork. Everyone was more concerned about avoiding Harry's temper.

But now that Mom had married Dennis, people expected things of Tank. They expected him to behave himself, not get into fights, do well in school ... And if Tank didn't do what was expected of him, there were actual consequences.

"Good," Mom said. "Now, remember Dennis's girls are coming tomorrow —"

Tank tried not to groan in front of Dennis. Yeah, he knew those girls were coming, but he'd been trying to forget.

Anna, Mollie, and Gracie lived in Florida with their mom during the school year, but they spent summers with their dad. Tank's house was barely big enough for Mom, Dennis, Tank, and Tank's fourteen-year-old brother, Zack, the Human Destroyer. It certainly wasn't big enough for three obnoxious girls, too. But Mom and Dennis had been married two years now. And they still kissed and stuff, so it didn't look like they'd be getting divorced anytime soon. As long as Dennis was around, Dennis's kids would have to come every summer.


Excerpted from Tank Talbott's Guide to Girls by Dori Hillestad Butler. Copyright © 2006 Dori Hillestad Butler. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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

Dori Hillestad Butler is owned by a big black dog named Mouse. He’s a registered therapy dog who enjoys reading with children in Coralville, Iowa, where he lives with Dori and her family. To learn more about Dori, her dog, and her other books for children, visit her website: www.kidswriter.com.   
Dori Hillestad Butler is owned by a big black dog named Mouse. He’s a registered therapy dog who enjoys reading with children in Coralville, Iowa, where he lives with Dori and her family. To learn more about Dori, her dog, and her other books for children, visit her website: www.kidswriter.com.

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