You're a Brave Man, Julius Zimmerman

You're a Brave Man, Julius Zimmerman

4.5 6
by Claudia Mills

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The sequel to Losers, Inc.

Twelve-year-old Julius Zimmerman is the former vice president of the defunct organization Losers, Inc. Ethan Winfield, the former president, no longer feels like a loser. But Julius still does, maybe because his mother thinks of him that way. To "improve" him, Mrs. Zimmerman signs Julius up for a summer course in

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The sequel to Losers, Inc.

Twelve-year-old Julius Zimmerman is the former vice president of the defunct organization Losers, Inc. Ethan Winfield, the former president, no longer feels like a loser. But Julius still does, maybe because his mother thinks of him that way. To "improve" him, Mrs. Zimmerman signs Julius up for a summer course in intensive French and for a part-time job baby-sitting three-year-old Edison Blue. She also sets a summer reading goal for him. Julius doesn't ace the French class and doesn't do the required reading, but he does turn out to have a winning way with kids -- and adults -- and in the end proves to his mother that her criteria for success aren't the only ones.

Editorial Reviews

Horn Book
In this sequel to Losers, Inc., twelve-year-old Julius starts A Tale of Two Cities but decides he has no interest in a book that begins with "an outright contradiction." Curiously enough, Julius is experiencing his own best and worst of times, in a summer engineered by his mother. His vacation (including an Intensive Summer Language Learning class, a babysitting job, and lots of age-appropriate reading) starts off badly. He discovers that the Hokey Pokey-never easy for the less-than-graceful Julius-is even trickier in French; three-year-old Edison provides a disastrous introduction to diaper-changing; and Julius decides his mom's despair over his dislike of books acts like "a magnet in her mind for all the other things she had ever been upset about." But if there's anything Julius is good at, it's trying-and he ends up having a pretty decent time. He learns a few things, too: in his desperation to convince Edison of the joys of toilet use, he suddenly sees his mother's zealotry about books and reading in a new light. And he has a blossoming friendship with a girl who is his antithesis in every way (superconfident Octavia loves an audience and is used to doing well and getting what she wants); each learns a little moderation from the other. Readers, who will have been rooting so much for likable Julius, will appreciate the conclusion: his mom's disappointment when she thinks Julius has ruined the French class's play turns to pride as she's accosted by both his teacher and the mother of his young charge, who lavishly praise his kindness-and his toilet-training skills. j.m.b.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Seventh-grader Julius Zimmerman's plans for an idle summer are spoiled when his mother signs him up for a five-week French course and an afternoon baby-sitting job. After only 45 minutes of French, the boy is convinced that he is the worst student in the class. Then, he meets his young charge, Edison Blue, and is horrified to learn that the child still wears diapers. The next few weeks present many challenges to Julius: toilet training the three-year-old, studying a new language, and trying to live up to his mother's expectations. During this time he also develops an interest in Edison's next door neighbor, Octavia. Throughout the story, the boy records his goals for each week, which change from lofty to realistic as the summer passes. As she did in Dinah Forever (Farrar, 1995), Mills catches the angst and awkwardness of middle schoolers with a light and humorous touch. There are some laugh-out-loud moments: one comes when Julius's French teacher gives him a private lesson in "le Hokey Pokey" with the entire class watching through the window. Julius is an appealing character-he isn't the best of students, but he tries hard. By the end of the summer, he accomplishes some of his goals and impresses his mother with his talent for working with children. Give this book to readers who enjoy Betsy Byars's Bingo Brown (Viking) or Lois Lowry's Anastasia (Houghton).-Terrie Dorio, Santa Monica Public Library, CA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In her sequel to Losers, Inc. (1997), Mills allows Julius to emerge as something of a sad sack—he's convinced he can't do anything right, that his mother doesn't like him, and that he has nothing to offer—but he's wrong. Following some low grades for Julius at the end of sixth grade, his mother has decided that a good foundation for seventh grade will include summer mornings in French class, afternoons baby-sitting toddler Edison, keeping a goal-setting journal, and reading in his free time. Instead of meeting his mother's goals, Julius accomplishes a few of his own: forming a friendship with Octavia, toilet-training Edison, and showing his mother that he doesn't have to be similar to her to succeed. His mother, painfully pushy and disappointed in Julius for most of the book, experiences a last-minute change of heart when other people inform her of her son's accomplishments and of his capacity for caring. Bathroom humor aside, there's little evidence of a relationship between Edison and Julius; when other signs of Julius's big heart—a scene in which he comforts Octavia and his selection of a gift into his French teacher—are pushed into the story, the manipulations of the author erode what readers already know: Julius is a really great guy. (Fiction. 8-12)

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Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
West Creek Middle School Series , #2
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File size:
227 KB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

You're a Brave Man, Julius Zimmerman

By Claudia Mills

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1999 Claudia Mills
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-5288-4


At nine o'clock in the morning on the first day of summer vacation, when he should have been sleeping late or heading off to the pool, Julius Zimmerman was speaking French. Not really speaking French, but he was opening his mouth, and French words, words in the French language, were coming out.

"Bonjour, Madame Cowper," Julius repeated with all the others. "Comment allez-vous?" He knew he was saying it all wrong. When it came to school, even to summer school, Julius usually did everything all wrong.

"Non! Non! Non!" Madame Cowper, whose real name was Mrs. Cowper, corrected them emphatically. Julius had already learned that the word for "No" in French is "Non," pronounced with a long "o" to rhyme with bone, but said in a funny, nasal way, as if the speaker had a terrible, stuffy head cold and didn't know enough to blow his nose.

"Non! Non! Non! Comme ça! Like this!" Madame Cowper paused and then repeated the phrase, drawing out each syllable with exaggerated enunciation. When she said "Cowper," it sounded like "Cow-pear," but with about five "r"s at the end: "Cow-pearrrrr." If a word had one "r" in it, why give it five? When she said "vous," her lips pursed as if she were about to kiss somebody. Julius couldn't believe how much work it was in French to say, "Good morning, how are you?" He wished they would learn the French for "Goodbye, I'm outta here." And then all go home.

He caught the eye of his best friend, Ethan Winfield, and they shared a quick grimace. It was Julius's fault, not Ethan's, that they were going to be spending three hours a day, five days a week, for five whole weeks in Intensive Summer Language Learning. Or, rather, it was Julius's mother's fault. She had found out about the program first, and signed up Julius, and then she had told Ethan's mother about it, and Mrs. Winfield had signed up Ethan, too.

Other kids' mothers must have found out about it, as well, because there were twenty-three students in the class, even some other boys, like Alex Ryan, who looked as sheepish as Julius felt. Only Lizzie Archer, AKA the Lizard, seemed to be in her element. Lizzie had a long-standing crush on Ethan and was probably looking forward to being able to write bilingual love poems to him, half in English, half in French.

When the class finally satisfied Madame Cowper on "How are you?" she turned to the chalkboard. From the front, she was a remarkably large woman; from the rear, she looked even larger.

Alex leaned forward. "Madame Cowper. Get it?"

Marcia Faitak giggled.

Julius hoped Madame Cowper hadn't heard. If she had, she didn't show it. She wrote on the board, in large, neat handwriting: Je m'appelle ___________.

Then she turned back to the class and adjusted her glasses. They were definitely strange-looking glasses, the tortoiseshell frames rising to a pointy little peak on the outside of each eye. Had she actually picked out those frames on purpose at the glasses store? Maybe they had been the only pair on sale.

"Je m'appelle Madame Cowper," Madame Cowper said then. "Comment vous appelez-vous?" She stood still, obviously waiting for someone to answer.

Julius didn't get it. How could you give an answer when you didn't understand the question? He looked at Ethan. Ethan plainly didn't get it, either.

"Je m'appelle Madame Cowper. Comment vous appelez-vous?" Madame Cowper repeated, her voice registering a hint of impatience.

Lizzie Archer raised her hand. "Je m'appelle Lizzie Archer," she ventured.

"Bien! Bien! Good! Good! Elle s'appelle Lizzie Archer. Comment vous appelez-vous?" Madame Cowper pointed at Ethan.

Ethan managed to give his answer: "Je m'appelle Ethan Winfield."

Julius had begun to figure out that they were supposed to say their names. Okay, he could do that. He could say his name. He had had plenty of practice over the past twelve years saying his name.

One by one, almost all of them got through their names, though Marcia started to giggle again during hers, and when Alex said his, it sounded a lot like "Je MOO-pelle Alex Ryan. Comment MOO appelez-MOO?" Madame Cowper pretended not to notice. So she must have heard Alex's remark before.

Julius felt himself getting more and more nervous as his turn approached. All he had to do was say one sentence in French. That couldn't be so hard — even if he was going to have to speak French all by himself this time, just him, saying those strange, unintelligible words.

Finally Madame Cowper pointed at Julius. "Comment vous appelez-vous?"

Julius swallowed hard. Maybe he didn't have to say the whole sentence. She had asked for his name; well, he'd tell her his name. "Julius Zimmerman," he said.

"Non! Non! Non! You must say, 'Je m'appelle Julius Zimmerman.'" Madame Cowper adjusted her glasses again as she waited for Julius to repeat the full sentence.

He had heard the sentence twenty times already. Why couldn't he remember it now?

"Je m'appelle ..." Madame Cowper prompted him.

"Je m'appelle," Julius repeated miserably.

"Your name, Monsieur Zimmerman. You must say your name."

"Julius. I mean, Julius Zimmerman."

"Non, non. You must say, 'Je m'appelle Julius Zimmerman.'"

Somehow Julius stammered it out. He thought he heard Alex say, "Je m'appelle Julius Ding-Dong."

Forty-five minutes into Intensive Summer Language Learning, it was already clear who was the worst student in the class. It felt strangely familiar. It felt strangely like the rest of Julius's life.

Julius could still hear his mother explaining her plans for his summer. "Listen, honey, last summer we had a lazy summer, and I admit it was a lot of fun, but then — well, lazy habits developed over the summer can be hard to break, and you have to be disappointed, too, about your report cards this past year. So this summer we're going to concentrate on setting a good foundation for seventh grade."

A good foundation, Julius was finding out, meant Intensive Summer Language Learning in the morning, and a job in the afternoon, which he would be starting in another few hours. His mother had read that jobs helped adolescents learn about responsibility, so she had signed him up to babysit for one of the children from Ethan's mother's preschool. She had pointed out that this way he'd have spending money of his own, plus he could start his own savings account for college. College! And a good foundation meant keeping a weekly goal-setting journal. Julius's mother loved goals and resolutions. She was the only person Julius knew who, in addition to New Year's resolutions, made new month's and new week's resolutions, too.

"Now, I'm not going to be reading your journal," she had told Julius when she handed him the green-covered, seventy-page, college-ruled, spiral-bound notebook. "But I want you to promise that you'll write in it faithfully."

Julius had promised. It wasn't as if he had a choice. So that morning he had written on the first page:

Goals for the Week of June 9–15

1. Read one book at age-appropriate reading level.

2. Do 10 pages in the Sixth-Grade Math Review Workbook.

3. Limit TV to two hours a day — educational programs only.

4. Survive the first week of Intensive Summer Language Learning.

5. Survive the first week of babysitting for Edison Blue.

6. Try not to think about what the other guys are doing at the pool.

7. Try not to think about what the other guys are doing at the park.

8. Remember that summer is only 10 weeks long. Motto: This too shall pass.

It was a pretty grim list. His mother had suggested the first three items on it; she had signed him up for the next two. Only the last three were his own, plus the motto. So far he hadn't even survived the first hour of the first day of Intensive Summer Language Learning. He still had a lot of goals to go.

At last Madame Cowper announced that it was time for a fifteen-minute break. When they returned, they would watch a video on France and learn some French songs. Julius bet the songs would be "Frère Jacques" and "Sur le Pont d'Avignon." He hoped they wouldn't have to all hold hands and dance. The image of Madame Cowper skipping back and forth on the bridge of Avignon made Julius grin to himself, but he stifled the thought. Tall and gangly, he had been the butt of enough klutz jokes to cure him permanently of wanting to laugh at how anybody else looked.

It felt good to be outside, however briefly. Julius and Ethan slumped down on the blacktop, their backs against the brick wall of West Creek Middle School, where all the summer language programs were being held. Alex ambled over to join them.

"So what do you think of the Cow?" Alex asked.

"She's okay," Julius said uncomfortably.

"Okay? You've got to be kidding. Like, is this for real? We're going to be doing this all summer?"

"Just five weeks," Ethan said. Right then it sounded to Julius like a very long time.

"Five weeks? Five weeks out of our lives?" Alex's voice rose to an indignant squawk.

"Do you have to take it?" Julius asked. "Like, would your parents let you drop it? My mom's making me take it." And making him work a job. And making him read age-appropriate books.

"Mine, too," Ethan said, though Julius knew that Ethan's mother would let him drop it if he wanted to. Julius also knew that Ethan was the kind of friend who would never desert him. They had been friends since second grade, through thick and thin.

"My dad's going to France on a business trip this fall, and he's taking my mom and me," Alex said. "They want me to learn a little French before we go."

Well, Julius wasn't going to France. He wasn't going anywhere. Nowhere fast, that was where he was headed.

"What do you say we shoot some hoops?" Ethan asked. "I brought my ball."

They had just enough time for Julius to miss two baskets before Madame Cowper appeared at the door, saying something to them in French that apparently meant it was time for the video. Julius barely watched it, and he tuned out during "Frère Jacques" and "Sur le Pont." Then they spent the rest of the morning discussing the weather. Julius learned that "Il fait beau" meant "The weather is beautiful." It was, too: clear, sunny, hot, but not too hot, perfect weather for biking, swimming, basketball, hiking — anything but Intensive Summer Language Learning.

* * *

When Julius biked home for lunch, his mother was there to greet him. She worked at home most days. She was a writer, but she didn't write novels or short stories or poetry, although Julius knew she wanted to. She wrote computer manuals. Boring computer manuals. Every once in a while she tried to slip in a little humor, she had told Julius, but the editors always took it out.

"Hi, honey. How was it?"

It was an ordinary question, but the tone was too eager. Julius knew she wanted him to say that he had fallen in love with the French language and that at long last he had discovered the subject that would turn him into a straight-A student.

"It was okay."

Her face showed a flicker of disappointment. Disappointing his mother was the one thing that Julius was good at.

"What's your teacher like?"

Should he tell her? No. She had enough problems of her own, writing dry, dull manuals all day when she wanted to write Pulitzer Prize–winning novels.

"She was okay, too."

"What's her name?"

"Mrs. Cowper. Only we have to call her Madame Cow-pear."

"I take it she's not another Ms. Gunderson?"

Julius flushed. Ms. Gunderson was the beautiful student science teacher who had come to West Creek Middle School last winter. Half the boys had had crushes on her, including Julius and Ethan. She had liked Ethan best, probably because Ethan had knocked himself out to impress her with a super-duper science fair experiment. For a while there, Julius had been pretty annoyed with Ethan. But now Ms. Gunderson was a fond memory, Julius was best friends with Ethan again, and Julius was through with love forever.

"No," he said. "She's not another Ms. Gunderson." It was the understatement of the millennium.

"Oh, you're going to be so glad you took this course. Think how far ahead you'll be when you start a foreign language in eighth grade," his mother said.

Did she really believe that? She wouldn't if she had been in French class that morning, when Julius had been the only student in the room who couldn't even say his name. The question for Julius was never how far ahead he would be but how far behind. It was only the first day of Intensive Summer Language Learning, and already he felt so far behind that there was no way he could ever catch up.


As they ate their lunch of macaroni and tuna salad, Julius's mother kept using her hopeful-sounding, overly enthusiastic tone of voice. "And this afternoon you start your first job! Mrs. Blue told me on the phone that she knows you're going to be wonderful with little Edison. She thinks he'll do better with a male babysitter."

The comment suggested that Edison hadn't done particularly well with his last, female babysitter.

"And you'll be able to do all those fun boy things with him."

As if Julius weren't a total klutz at most "boy things."

"I'll try," he said lamely.

Apparently it was the right response. His mother's face brightened. "I know you will, honey. That's what it's all about in life: trying. Doing your best, whatever else happens."

Julius had met Edison and his parents briefly at his job interview two weeks ago. Edison had been pretty quiet and mopey from his nap, dragging a dingy blanket along behind him. Edison was three. In the mornings, he went to the Little Wonders preschool, where Ethan's mother was his teacher; in the afternoons, his mom stayed home with him. But this summer Mrs. Blue needed to work some extra hours and had decided to hire a babysitter to fill the gap. Mrs. Blue had called Mrs. Winfield, and Mrs. Winfield had called Mrs. Zimmerman. And the rest was history, as Custer had no doubt remarked when he looked up and saw the Indians.

* * *

At one o'clock on the dot, Julius rang the bell at the Blues' small brick split-level, about a mile's bike ride from home.

Mrs. Blue opened the door right away. She was short, considerably shorter than Julius. Her hair was pulled back in an untidy ponytail. "Oh, Julius, I'm so glad to see you. Come on in! Edison has been very ..." She lowered her voice. "He thinks he doesn't want a babysitter. I'm afraid he's quite adamant about it. But I'm sure you'll be able to win him over." Julius had never heard anybody sound less sure of anything.

"Edison!" Mrs. Blue called in the same falsely cheerful tone Julius had heard his own mother use an hour ago. Did all moms go to some special intensive summer course on gushing? Didn't they know kids figured out right away that the more cheerful their mothers sounded, the worse the fate that lay in store for them?

A small boy appeared in the doorway. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt that said: "I [love] Virginia Beach." But from the scowl that darkened his grubby little face, it looked as if Edison didn't [love] anything.

"I don't think there's anything else I need to tell you before I go," Mrs. Blue said uncertainly. "Eat anything you want in the fridge. Be sure to put sunblock on Edison if you go out in the yard. I'm a little low on wipes, so use them sparingly. I'll be back at four. I've left his dad's and my work numbers on the bulletin board, in case there're any emergencies."

The mention of "emergencies" made Mrs. Blue look more uncertain than ever. She lowered her voice. "I've read that it's better for the mother not to prolong the goodbyes. The book said that even if the child cries, it's usually only for a minute or so, and it's worse if the mother lingers. But you'll tell me if he cries longer than that, won't you?"

Julius nodded numbly. He hoped Edison wouldn't cry. He hated it when people cried.

"Bye, angel!" His mother blew an obviously guilty kiss to Edison, who promptly burst into stormy sobs. Then she was gone. Julius's first afternoon of babysitting had begun.

Edison hurled himself at the front door, through which his mother had disappeared, beating his small fists against it.


Excerpted from You're a Brave Man, Julius Zimmerman by Claudia Mills. Copyright © 1999 Claudia Mills. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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.

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