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How Oliver Olson Changed the World
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How Oliver Olson Changed the World

3.4 21
by Claudia Mills, Heather Maione (Illustrator)

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Oliver Olson's teacher is always saying that one person with a big idea can change the world. But how is Oliver supposed to change the world when his parents won't let him do anything on his own—not his class projects or even attending activities such as the space sleepover at school. Afraid he will become an outsider like ex-planet Pluto, Oliver decides to


Oliver Olson's teacher is always saying that one person with a big idea can change the world. But how is Oliver supposed to change the world when his parents won't let him do anything on his own—not his class projects or even attending activities such as the space sleepover at school. Afraid he will become an outsider like ex-planet Pluto, Oliver decides to take control of his corner of the universe!

How Oliver Olson Changed the World is an irresistible chapter book from Claudia Mills, featuring lively illustrations by Heather Maione. Oliver Olson learns that before you can change the world, sometimes you need to change yourself.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Third grader Oliver Olson has a problem that may make many young readers envious: His parents have a compulsion to be deeply involved in his homework, to the extent that when he's assigned a diorama on the solar system, Dad and Mom are planning to do all the work. Oliver's parents are extremely overprotective, and he yearns to find some freedom now that he's getting older. Fortunately, classmate Crystal comes from a less restrictive family, and, when they find common ground on the issue of Pluto's no-longer-a-planet status, she volunteers to partner with Oliver on the diorama. Oliver's concern about his parents' likely disappointment at their exclusion adds a nice level of believability to his character. Each chapter includes a lively illustration from Maione that matches the text neatly, characters' varied facial expressions conveying just the right emotions. Oliver may not change the world by the end of his diorama project, but he will certainly provide a fast-paced, entertaining read to the chapter-book audience. (Fiction. 7-9)
From the Publisher

“Kids . . . will appreciate this warm and humorous story about one family's struggle for balance.” —BookPage

“Personable and friendly, with touches of rueful humor.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Starred Review

“Mills has a knack for creating characters who demand compassion due to a pitch-perfect sense of humor and pathos.” —School Library Journal

“An engaging and though-provoking chapter book.” —Booklist

“Mills's previous beginning chapter books have been stellar, and this one is no exception.” —The Horn Book

“Oliver may not change the world by the end of his diorama project, but he will certainly provide a fast-paced, entertaining read to the chapter-book audience.” —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.41(w) x 7.92(h) x 0.56(d)
730L (what's this?)
Age Range:
7 - 10 Years

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Read an Excerpt

How Oliver Olson Changed the World

By Claudia Mills

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2009 Claudia Mills
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3592-0


Oliver Olson looked up at the moon.

The large inflated ball hung on a string from the ceiling in Mrs. O'Neill's third-grade classroom. Earth and Mars and the other planets hung there, too, because this was the Monday that Oliver's class was starting its five-week study of outer space.

"When I was a girl," Mrs. O'Neill said, "astronauts walked on the moon for the very first time."

Oliver tried to imagine Mrs. O'Neill as a girl. The best he could do was picture a much shorter version of a stout, short-haired lady with thick glasses and a kind smile.

"How many of you would like to walk on the moon?"

Every hand shot up, except for Oliver's. Oliver's parents would never let him walk on the moon. The moon was too far away. It was too cold. It didn't have enough gravity. The rocket might explode. Rockets exploded all the time.

Mrs. O'Neill looked at Oliver. He hoped she wouldn't ask him why he didn't want to walk on the moon. She didn't.

But Crystal Harding did. Her desk was right next to Oliver's. "Why don't you want to walk on the moon?" she whispered.

Oliver shrugged.

A shrug wasn't enough of an answer for Crystal. "Do you think it's dangerous?"

Oliver nodded. Maybe a nod would end the conversation.

"Flying is safer than driving a car," Crystal said. "It's even safer than riding a bike."

Well, being launched into outer space in a rocket wasn't the same thing as flying. And Oliver's parents were never going to let him drive a car, either. They didn't even let him ride a bike with his friend J. P. Gleason, except for around and around their boring little cul-de-sac.

"Crystal?" Mrs. O'Neill said.

"I was just asking Oliver why he didn't want to walk on the moon." Now everyone was staring at Oliver. "And he said it was dangerous." Actually, Oliver hadn't said anything. "And then I said —"

"Crystal." Mrs. O'Neill interrupted her gently but firmly. "Right now I need you to be listening, not talking."

Crystal gave Mrs. O'Neill an apologetic smile. At least five times a day, Mrs. O'Neill had to remind Crystal about not talking. She was the most talkative person Oliver had ever known.

"Astronauts first walked on the moon on July 20, 1969," Mrs. O'Neill told the class. "Neil Armstrong led the way, and he spoke the first words ever spoken on the moon. He said, 'That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.'"

Oliver thought Neil Armstrong must have planned what to say ahead of time. Those words didn't sound like something that would pop into someone's head on the spur of the moment. Maybe Neil Armstrong's parents had written them for him and made him memorize them.

J.P. raised his hand. "Do people still walk on the moon?"

"No," Mrs. O'Neill said. "There hasn't been a manned space voyage to the moon for decades."

"Why not?" J.P. asked.

Oliver could guess the answer: the moon was too far away, was too cold, and didn't have enough gravity. And when you got there, it was just a bunch of rocks.

"Don't people want to study the moon's rocks?" J.P. continued.

Oliver knew that J.P. loved rocks. J.P.'s desk was full of rocks. Whenever Mrs. O'Neill had a desk-cleaning day, J.P. would drag out dozens of rocks from his desk, and Mrs. O'Neill would make him take them home. And then, Oliver knew, J.P.'s mother would make him put them outside in the backyard.

"I'm sure there are lots of scientists who would like to know more about the moon's rocks," Mrs. O'Neill said. "But recent manned space missions have stayed closer to Earth."

J.P. looked disappointed.

A girl named Sylvie Shi raised her hand. "Do animals ever go up into space?"

Oliver knew that by animals Sylvie meant bunnies. Sylvie had two bunnies of her own, and every time the class did an art project, Sylvie made hers a bunny. So far Sylvie had made a clay bunny, and a bunny puppet, and a silhouette bunny, and a bunny made out of papier-mâché.

"Some of the first creatures to go up into space were animals," Mrs. O'Neill replied. "The space scientists sent up a chimpanzee to make sure that it was safe before they sent up the first American astronaut, Alan Shepard."

"Didn't they care if it was safe for the chimp?" Sylvie demanded.

"I'm sure they did, Sylvie. And the chimp did survive the trip."

"What was the chimp's name?" Sylvie asked.

"His name was Ham," Mrs. O'Neill said. "Boys and girls, I'm glad you have so many good questions, and I hope we can answer them all over the next few weeks."

Oliver felt guilty. He didn't have any questions at all. He imagined his parents sitting at the dining room table trying to think of questions he could ask about space.

"Oliver, why don't you ask how cold it is on the moon?" his father would say.

"Oliver, why don't you ask how astronauts go to the bathroom in outer space?" his mother would say.

Oliver smothered a chuckle. His mother would never say that. She'd ask if there were seat belts in the rocket.

"Today I want to tell you a little bit about the early years of the space program," Mrs. O'Neill went on. "President John Fitzgerald Kennedy gave a famous speech on May 25, 1961. In that speech, he said, 'I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.' Until then no one had dreamed of putting a man on the moon. It seemed impossible."

Mrs. O'Neill paused. "But, boys and girls, it happened. Before the end of the decade, a man did walk on the moon."

She paused again. Oliver knew she was going to say something she thought was very important.

"One person with a big idea can change the world," Mrs. O'Neill said. "Maybe one of you will have an idea someday that will change the world."

Oliver stared at his desk. J.P. had big ideas about rocks. Sylvie had big ideas about bunnies. Crystal had big ideas about everything. Oliver wondered if he would ever have a big idea about anything.

"Now, when we finish our study of space," Mrs. O'Neill said, "we're going to have our space sleepover, right here in our classroom at school. This is the most exciting event of third grade! There will be all kinds of space activities, from looking through a real telescope at the stars and planets, to playing space games, to watching a science-fiction movie about adventures in outer space. I'll be sending the information to your parents next week."

"Can I bring my special meteorite rock for everyone to see?" J.P. asked.

"Can we bring stuffed animals with us?" Sylvie asked.

"Do we have to sleep, or can we stay up all night talking?" Crystal asked.

"Yes, yes, yes, and no," Mrs. O'Neill said with a smile.

Oliver tuned out. His parents would never let him go to the space sleepover. He might as well ask them if he could walk on the moon. Even President Kennedy wouldn't have been able to achieve the goal of landing Oliver at the space sleepover. J.P. had invited him for a sleepover half a dozen times, and Oliver's parents had always said no. Ever since he had been sickly as a little boy, and had waited a year to begin kindergarten, his parents, especially his mother, couldn't stop worrying about him.

Oliver looked up and scowled, as if it were somehow the moon's fault that he'd never get to see it through a real telescope. All he'd ever see was that stupid inflated ball, dangling from the classroom ceiling.


As part of their space study, all the kids in Oliver's class had to make a diorama of the solar system. They could work alone or with a friend.

Oliver was working with his parents.

Or, rather, Oliver was watching his parents work.

On Saturday morning, Oliver's father had three empty shoe boxes spread out on the dining room table: one small, one medium, one large.

Oliver's mother was reading aloud from the grading rubric on Mrs. O'Neill's assignment sheet. "'Name on project — ten points.' George, make sure you put his name on it. The name is worth ten points!"

"Patsy, we'll put the name on last. How can I put the name on it when I don't even know which shoe box we're going to be using?"

Oliver thought he could put his own name on the project. Oliver Olson: 11 letters, 3 of them the same one, o. His parents probably could trust him to write his own name.

Oliver's mother continued reading. "'All information about the solar system complete and accurate — fifty points.' What do you think she means by complete? How much information are you supposed to have in a diorama? George, what do you think?"

"How should I know?" Oliver's father asked. He was still studying the three shoe boxes. "Even this biggest one is too small, if the model is going to be to scale."

He turned to Oliver. "Oliver, go to the garage and get a bigger box."

"Oliver, go upstairs and get the solar system books we checked out of the library," his mother said at the same time.

Oliver sighed heavily.

He retrieved the library books first and gave them to his mother. He had read the shortest one last night.

In the garage, Oliver found the huge box from his father's new computer monitor, and the even huger box from his father's new computer. They were both too big for a diorama.

Oliver returned to the dining room empty-handed. "The boxes in the garage are too big."

"We need a big box!" His father sounded irritated. Building dioramas always made him irritated. "Go get the biggest one, the computer one."

"'Attractiveness of the presentation — twenty points.'" Oliver's mother was still reading from the grading sheet. "What are we going to use to make the planets? Should we use Styrofoam balls? The rings of Saturn will be the hardest. Or the asteroid belt. How are we going to make the asteroid belt?"

Oliver brought the computer box into the dining room. He had seen a lot of dioramas in his day, but he had never seen one in a box big enough to hold a desktop computer and all its packing.

"Dioramas are supposed to be in shoe boxes," he told his dad as he set the computer box on the floor.

"Where does it say that? Patsy, read the directions again. What does it say about the size of the box?"

"'Originality — twenty points,'" Oliver's mother read.

Well, a diorama in a computer box would be original, Oliver supposed. So would a diorama in a refrigerator box, or a moving van.

"That's all it says," Oliver's mother told his father. "Name, ten points; accuracy, fifty points; attractiveness, twenty points; originality, twenty points. I still think it's ridiculous to give ten points for your name."

Oliver didn't think so. He thought it would be ridiculous to make a diorama inside a computer carton.

"Oliver, the box has to be big if the solar system is going to be built to scale." Oliver's father was using his patient, explaining-things voice. "Say the sun is as big as a tennis ball. Patsy, we have tennis balls around here somewhere, don't we? How far away would Earth have to be then?"

"About a mile?" Oliver guessed.

"Sarcasm isn't helpful, Oliver."

Oliver hadn't meant to be sarcastic. He opened the library book he had read to the page that showed the solar system to scale. "If the sun is as big as an o on one page, Earth is as big as a period on the other page."

His father slammed the book shut in disgust. "How does she expect us to make a diorama of the solar system to scale?"

Oliver didn't point out that Mrs. O'Neill wasn't expecting the parents to make anything at all. "I think we're just supposed to do the best we can," he offered.

"But accuracy is worth fifty points!" Now his mother sounded as upset as his father.

"I think she means things like getting the planets in the correct order, and putting rings on Saturn, and spelling their names right," Oliver said.

"Look," Oliver's father said, obviously trying to pull himself together. He set the computer box on the dining room table. "Suppose we made the sun as big as a Ping-Pong ball. Then Earth would be as big as ..."

"A pea?" Oliver suggested.

"How are we going to paint a pea so that it's attractive?" His mother's voice rose higher. "Attractiveness is worth twenty points. What's attractive about a pea?"

Not much, in Oliver's opinion.

"So, if the Ping-Pong ball is here" — Oliver's father pointed to the far side of the box — "where would the pea go?"

"In the kitchen?" Oliver asked.

"Oliver," his father said in a low, warning tone.

"It's not my fault that the solar system is big."

"All right." His father looked ready to concede defeat. "Suppose we don't make it to scale. The solar system is still going to look cramped in a shoe box."

That was okay, Oliver thought. When his parents made his diorama of the entire Amazon rain forest last year, it had looked cramped in a shoe box, too.

"I think we should use Styrofoam balls for the planets," his mother said. "We can paint Mars red. And we can put cotton around Venus, to be the cloud cover."

Oliver was getting bored listening to his parents talk about shoe boxes and Styrofoam balls. "I'm going over to J.P.'s house for a while," he said hopefully.

"Oliver!" his parents shouted together.

"This is your project," his father said.

"We need you to help," his mother said.

Oliver dropped into one of the dining room chairs, hidden from view behind the enormous computer box. It was going to be a long morning.


On Monday morning, right after math, Mrs. O'Neill wrote the names of the planets on the chalkboard: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. Oliver copied the list in his notebook, even though he already knew it from reading his library book. But the book included another planet, too, after Neptune — tiny, faraway Pluto.

"For years and years, I told my classes that there were nine planets," Mrs. O'Neill said, as if she had read Oliver's thoughts. "The eight I've put on the board, and Pluto. But now scientists have decided that Pluto shouldn't be counted as a planet. For one thing, Pluto is too small."

"J.P. is small," Crystal interrupted. J.P. was the shortest, skinniest boy in the class. "That doesn't mean he's not a person."

The rest of the class turned to inspect J.P. J.P. blushed. Oliver shot him a sympathetic look.

"My chihuahua is small," Crystal continued. "That doesn't mean she's not a dog. Rhode Island is small. That doesn't mean it's not a state."

"Crystal," Mrs. O'Neill said, "you didn't let me finish explaining. The scientists decided that if Pluto counted as a planet, lots of other things should count, as well. There are quite a few other bodies that orbit the sun and are even bigger than Pluto."

"Maybe they should count as planets," Crystal shot back. "I mean, who are these scientists? Why do they get to decide what gets to be a planet and what doesn't? And all the scientists who thought Pluto was a planet — don't their views matter?"

"As scientists learn more, their views change," Mrs. O'Neill said. "At one time scientists thought the sun revolved around Earth. Now we know Earth revolves around the sun. Scientists are learning new things all the time."

"But that's a fact," Crystal said. "Either Earth revolves around the sun, or it doesn't. But Pluto being a planet or not — that's not a fact. That's more like, there's this club of planets, and Pluto got kicked out of the club."

Crystal was looking madder and madder. Oliver thought it was funny that someone would care so much about whether or not Pluto was a planet. But he found himself wanting to take Crystal's side. If Pluto had gotten to be a planet for all those years, why change things now? What harm would it do to let Pluto stay a planet? Except that it would be one more Styrofoam ball he had to put in his computer-box diorama.

Sylvie was looking upset, too. "What if scientists just decide that some animals don't get to be animals anymore? Like —"

"Bunnies!" The rest of the class completed the sentence for her.

"Boys and girls," Mrs. O'Neill said, "I can tell we're going to want to learn more about Pluto. I'll find some articles to bring in to class that will give us a better explanation of how the scientific decision was made."

"Can we write to the scientists and tell them they're wrong?" Crystal asked.

Mrs. O'Neill smiled. "After you finish your planet work sheets, I'm going to tell you about an exciting opportunity for sharing lots of your good ideas. But now I need you to spend the next fifteen minutes on the planet assignment."


Excerpted from How Oliver Olson Changed the World by Claudia Mills. Copyright © 2009 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.

Meet the Author

CLAUDIA MILLS is the author of numerous books for children of all ages. Other chapter books include 7 X 9 = Trouble!, an ALA Notable Book, and Being Teddy Roosevelt, a Best Children's Book of the Year, Bank Street College. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.

HEATHER MAIONE has illustrated many children's books, including Remembering Mrs. Rossi by Amy Hest. She lives in Laurel Hollow, New York.

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How Oliver Olson Changed the World 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
L-I-S-A More than 1 year ago
Oliver olson is a very detirmend character in a way. His parents are too protective. But is a really good book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Okay, so you gyys who think this book is terriblf, you say: This book suks Terrible Bleh And all that other stuff. Out of all the reviews i did not but see one that said almost too breifly why they thought the book wad bad. Some if you cant even take the time to spell the dang word right! So i get that you dont like it, but some people like me go through all the reviews to check up on hoe it is but all we find is that "it sux man dnt rd it. Blehc" which id not helpful! If you have something to say about this, reply to Cupcake. Thanks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book stinks Its boring snoring Really......i feel asleep on ch.1 Waste if money
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hated this book because ther were no details bu the ending was okay
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What the heck its a good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome book
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book suks
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my Battle Of the Books (BOB) books and I love it!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
YellowPineapple More than 1 year ago
IT kept me interested and I liked the pictures!!!!!!!!!"!!!!!!!!!!!""!!!!!!!!"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is horrible. Every page made me want to vomit. Do not waste your money unless you are stupid.
Katie Girdler More than 1 year ago
Oliver olson changed my world what a good book by claudia mills