A. J. Jacobs
Clements once again proves he can pull off writing about middle schoolers' emotions without being cartoonish or cloying. Frindle is still my favorite, but this is a worthy addition to the Clements canon.
The New York Times
Clements (Extra Credit) delivers another rock-solid school story that will resonate with middle graders. Like his older brother, Mitch, sixth-grader Clay is habitually in trouble, and he can't wait to tell Mitch about his latest coup—a realistic portrait of Principal Kelling as a donkey. But his 19-year-old brother, who's just finished a 30-day jail sentence after losing his temper in court, is not amused, and he orders Clay to straighten out ("You're gonna do all the stuff that I never did—and do things right, the smart way"). Clay promises to do so, but learns that his well-established reputation is hard to shake, backsliding is easy, and taking his life in a new direction might mean leaving old friends behind—or being pranked himself. Though the story is largely Clay's, Clements offers the perspectives of other characters, demonstrating how Clay's tussles with his conscience have an impact on the environment around him. Clements's empathy for Clay is clear—he's not a bad kid, just someone whose mischievous tendencies have always been encouraged. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. (July)
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Clayton Hensley wants to be exactly like his older brother, who just got out of jail for wielding his own brand of trouble. When he uses his free art period to draw the principal as a donkey, he makes sure he's the talk of the school, showing off on the way to the office. But, when Clay reveals the drawing to Mitch, he's in for a surprise. Not only is his brother not proud, but he's also disappointed. Mitch wants Clay to turn his life around. The problem is, Clay isn't sure he can do it, or if he even wants to. Being good isn't any fun at all. Or is it? Clements forms interesting parallels between choice, habit, and repute, asking the questions: Can people change their reputations? And, is having fun at the expense of someone else really fun? Occasional pencil drawings of Clay's antics highlight the best parts of the story. Clay will encourage kids who want to forge a new path, placing their own brand on doing the right thing. An inspiring and comical read.—Terry Ann Lawler, Phoenix Public Library, AZ
From the Publisher
"Clements is a genius of gentle, high-concept tales set in suburban middle schools."--The New York Times
"Another rock-solid school story that will resonate with middle graders."--Publishers Weekly
Children's Literature - Carly Reagan
Clay Hensley is a talented, bright, and determined sixth grade boy. The only problem is that he's also a grade-A troublemaker. For years he worked on developing his reputation as someone who wasn't afraid of authority, and who could successfully prank even the principal of the school. He even loved to report all his misdeeds to his big brother, Mitch, who would cheer him on; but all that changes when Mitch goes to jail for one of his own challenges to authority. When his big brother comes back home, he is no longer impressed by Clay's mischief. After promising Mitch that he'll change his ways. Clay finds out that undoing six years of trouble might be harder than he thought, but learns a few things about understanding others along the way. A well done school story on the popular topic of the "class clown," Clements quickly and clearly defines his characters and keeps the chapters short for quick reading and steady story development. Specifically modern language is used sparingly, helping the characters seem real, while not going overboard. Pencil shaded illustrations accompany almost every chapter, and though well done, do not seem particularly necessary for a child with his or her own imagination. Great for reading aloud in a classroom, or for the rambunctious child to read on his own, seeing how interesting school can be, even outside of the principal's office. Reviewer: Carly Reagan
Clay learns that it's easy to get into trouble but far more difficult to get out of it in this breezy Scared Straight–type novel for the elementary-school set.
Clay has finesse. He can create mischief with such cheerful aplomb that he can charm even the principal's assistant, who has been documenting Clay's misdeeds since kindergarten. A clever boy and a talented artist, Clay is bursting with enthusiasm for his pranks. Clay loves and emulates his older brother, Mitch, who was the pre-eminent troublemaker before him. However, Mitch, unlike Clay, has taken his misdeeds to a level of aggression that fun-loving Clay does not. The day Mitch is to come home from prison, Clay undertakes a master antic to impress him and is devastated when Mitch slaps him and demands that he shape up or else end up like himself. Thus begins a makeover, as Mitch gets Clay a new wardrobe and stipulates new rules by which to live. Clay is certain that he looks like Mr. Potato Head with his new haircut, but he's dedicated to pleasing his brother. School provides terrific opportunities for mischief that Clay finds hard to resist, especially the launchable lunch food. But the hardest part of this new life is the rift growing between him and his best buddy, co-trickster Hank. Clements here enters into provocative territory and pulls it off like the pro he is. Kids will easily relate to Clay, and the secondary characters come alive as well.
With easygoing prose enhanced by occasional sketches, this slender school story does its job with no trouble at all.(Fiction. 8-12)
Read an Excerpt
Clay Hensley frowned at the paper on the table. It wasn’t a very good drawing. He’d made tons of better ones . . . like that picture he’d made of the old man sitting on the bridge? Now, that was good—even won a prize. This drawing? It was okay, just a simple portrait. It wasn’t going to win any prizes—but then, it wasn’t supposed to. It was supposed to do something else. Soon.
Out of the corner of his eye Clay saw Mr. Dash get up from his desk. The class period was almost over, so the art teacher was beginning his inspections, same as always.
Clay squinted and kept working on the portrait, shading a little here, erasing a little there, trying to get the expression on the face just right—actually, trying to get the whole head to look right. It wasn’t easy.
What People are saying about this
From the Publisher
"Clements is a genius of gentle, high-concept tales set in suburban middle schools."The New York Times
"Another rock-solid school story that will resonate with middle graders."Publishers Weekly