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Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters

Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters

4.4 38
by Rachel Vail, Matthew Cordell (Illustrator)

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It's the start of the school year, and nothing feels right to Justin. He didn't get the teacher he wanted, he's not in the same class as his best friend, and his little sister, Elizabeth, is starting kindergarten at his school. Elizabeth doesn't seem nervous at all. Justin is very nervous about third grade. And to top it off, he's lost his favorite stuffed animal,


It's the start of the school year, and nothing feels right to Justin. He didn't get the teacher he wanted, he's not in the same class as his best friend, and his little sister, Elizabeth, is starting kindergarten at his school. Elizabeth doesn't seem nervous at all. Justin is very nervous about third grade. And to top it off, he's lost his favorite stuffed animal, but he can't tell anyone, because technically he's too old to still have stuffed animals. Right?

Here is third grade in all its complicated glory—the friendships, the fears, and the advanced math. Acclaimed author Rachel Vail captures third grade with a perfect pitch, and Matthew Cordell's line art is both humorous and touching. As Justin bravely tries to step out of his shell, he will step into readers' hearts.

Justin Case is a 2011 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“This honest and heartfelt look at elementary school is illustrated with occasional doodles that perfectly suit the book and audience.” —Kidsville News

Justin Case, the new novel by Rachel Vail, might well be subtitled the wit and wisdom of a third-grade worrywart. By turns droll, sardonic, ironic, and even sophisticated, it chronicles the daily tribulations of life in the third-grade as told by its eponymous hero, who in the course of his school year discovers there is no heroism unless there is fear. And fear Justin has a-plenty, be it of his new dog Qwerty, his new teacher, sports, math, friends, jiggly Jell-O--or whatever--a lot comes his way, real and imagined. The writing is sharp, unpredictably clever, and establishes third-grade as a mine-field of the absurd--which is to say, real life.” —Avi, Newbery Medalist

“Vail employs easy, direct language in a rhythm and syntax that captures the essence of a charming, lovable and very believable boy. Readers transitioning to longer fiction will groan, sympathize and laugh out loud in delight. Absolutely marvelous.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Publishers Weekly
Vail, who collaborated with Cordell on the picture book Righty and Lefty, creates an endearing portrait of a third-grade worrywart in this slice-of-life novel written in diary form. At the onset of the school year, Justin K. (later nicknamed Justin Case) is plagued with concerns about his new teacher, his new haircut, and the possibility of losing his best friend (“because she is a girl and I am a boy”). Some of his anxieties prove to be unwarranted, and the year offers surprises both good and bad. After battling loneliness (when his favorite stuffed animal is misplaced) and fears (about getting beaten up and having to climb the rope in gym class), Justin realizes he has attained his third-grade goal of becoming “a little braver this year.” If the young hero's mishaps go on a bit long, they are universally recognizable and distinguished by observations and details that consistently ring true, from being told to “shake it off” on the soccer field to the horrible realization that all the “good kids” got put in the other class. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 7-9. (May)
School Library Journal
Gr 2–4—Honest and full of heart, Justin Case is a story for an oft-ignored segment of kids: the sensitive, introverted, and observant. Those youngsters will see themselves in third grader Justin Krzeszewski, a full-blown worrywart with good intentions. He wants to be a good student. He wants to make friends. It's just that sometimes things don't work out, often with humorous results. Through his journal entries during the course of the year, readers see his changing friendships, embarrassments, a "be careful what you wish for" new pet, and the dreaded gym-class rope. His voice is authentic, and touches of playdates and "screen time" will ring true with today's youngsters. The format will remind many readers of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (Abrams), but with fewer illustrations and a more reflective tone than Jeff Kinney's series. Cordell's intermittent doodles pair nicely with the personal quality of the text. Readers who are looking for plot-driven excitement will have to look elsewhere. Justin Case is about the feelings that kids experience as they navigate the roller coaster of family and school life. This is subtly satisfying storytelling. No miraculous character overhauls—just a boy growing up and, hopefully, becoming a bit braver.—Travis Jonker, Dorr Elementary School, MI
Kirkus Reviews
Third grader Justin Case gets this nickname thanks to his amazing ability to worry about everything. His journal chronicles his nightmares and self-fulfilling prophecies of doom. He carries concerns about school, sports and friendships to wild extremes, and he creates a litany of characters and events that strike terror at every turn, from the imaginary robber Big Boy to his beloved stuffed animals, which wage a war over control of his bed, to the boiler at the way back of the basement-and anything else his incredibly active and freewheeling imagination can conjure. For him "there's always tomorrow for all the bad things that didn't happen today." He doesn't notice that he is also kind, dependable, tenacious and highly creative, as well as a very good friend and big brother. Vail employs easy, direct language in a rhythm and syntax that captures the essence of a charming, lovable and very believable boy. Readers transitioning to longer fiction will groan, sympathize and laugh out loud in delight. Absolutely marvelous. (Fiction. 7-10)

Product Details

Square Fish
Publication date:
Justin Case Series , #1
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
7 - 9 Years

Read an Excerpt

September 1, Tuesday

     Okay, yes. I’m worried.


     I can’t help it.


September 2, Wednesday

     Seven days to go until the start of third grade. I can’t sleep. I’m not getting onto a good schedule. I’m still on a summer schedule. But worse.

     Everybody else is asleep. Mom, Dad, Elizabeth—they’re all snoring, and I’m still up. Listening. To the silence.

     It’s very loud, the silence in my room. I’m flopping around my bed, tangling in my blankets. My pajamas are starting to itch. My stuffed snake, Snakey, is giving me an evil look, like he might come to life and bite me.

     I know that is not possible and I definitely don’t believe in stuff like that anymore.

     Just in case, though, I’m now sitting up, with my heart pounding, throwing blankets on top of Snakey. It’s not working. I know he’s still in there, under my blankets, with his venomous stuffed teeth and glassy eyes.

     I’m more awake than ever.

     If I don’t get enough sleep, I am a disaster.

     Sometimes I am a disaster anyway.

     And I don’t just mean at ball sports.


September 3, Thursday

     The class lists came—finally!

     My new teacher is named Ms. Burns. I don’t think that sounds too good. Burns? She is brand-new to the school. I have no idea if she will be nice or mean, old or young, pretty or an evil witch.

     Of course I don’t believe in evil witches.

     At least, during the day I don’t.

     My little sister, Elizabeth, is starting kindergarten. She got Ms. Amara, my old kindergarten teacher, the best teacher in the entire world.

     If I could have Ms. Amara again, everything would be fine.

     But I don’t.

     So it’s not.

     I have Ms. Burns, who could be anything. She could hate me. She might hate kids with curly hair or blue sneakers. (I should have gotten the white like Mom said to.) Ms. Burns could be a loud teacher. She could be a yeller.

     Oh, I hope she is not a yeller.

     Third grade will be horrible if I have a yeller for a teacher.

     She might make us sit in rows. I might get seated behind my second-best friend, Noah, who is also on the list for Ms. Burns, and who has an extremely large head. If that happens I will never be able to see the board because of that large head of his.

     I will fall behind and never catch up. Ms. Burns will think I am stupid. All because of Noah’s extremely large head. He will not be my second-best friend anymore, if that happens. I mean it. I hope he got a haircut at least. He has extremely large hair, too.

     I have to call Noah and see if he got a haircut.


September 4, Friday

     Noah’s family is away in Ohio so I got their machine.

     Mom said to stop worrying about Noah’s hair. Obviously Mom never had a second-best friend as large-headed as Noah.

     Unfortunately, Mom got the idea to cut my hair. She held up a mirror afterward and asked how I liked it. “I hate it,” I said, because I looked awful, like an athlete. I don’t want to look like an athlete. I want to look more like a journalist or a researcher, more messy. She said, “Oh, Justin.”

     Elizabeth, who had been in the living room for most of my haircut before she twirled off somewhere, came back in with a big story clogging up her whole wet mouth. She stopped mid-sentence and asked me, “Who are you?” I told her not to be ridiculous, I was Justin, her brother, which she totally knew. She said, “You don’t look like Justin.”

     I told her I had just gotten my hair cut, and that she knew that because she had seen me getting it cut and also I was still sitting on the stool with the black robe on me and my hair in drifts all around the floor.

     She squinted and said, “Are you sure you’re Justin? You look more like an athlete.”


September 5, Saturday

     We’re visiting Gingy and Poopsie for Labor Day weekend. Gingy and Poopsie are good grandparents except for a few things:

     1. They have a cat. Cats walk like prowling predators, like they want to eat my toes for lunch. Even their cat, Mr. Stripes, who is so old his fur looks like it’s been through the washing machine.

     2. Gingy makes Jell-O. Food shouldn’t jiggle, in my opinion.

     3. Poopsie keeps yelling at Gingy, “Did you take your pills? Don’t forget to take your pills!” and also, “Did you give the kids their Jell-O? Give them some more Jell-O. Justin loves Jell-O!” Poopsie has trouble hearing so he yells all the time in case everybody else has the same problem.

     4. We’re visiting them not at their house but at their beach condo, where we all have to sleep in the same room because that is the only room.

     5. Everybody snores.

     6. There could be sharks.


September 6, Sunday

     There aren’t sharks.

     But there is a LOT of Jell-O.


September 7, Monday

     This morning I couldn’t find Wingnut.

     I was not being overly dramatic. I was being underly dramatic. How would Gingy feel if she couldn’t find the thing she loves most in the world? I wasn’t being fresh; I was just asking.

     Later, we found him. He had gotten mixed in with the laundry. Phew. Now Wingnut’s fur is a little more matted (like Mr. Stripes, but I didn’t say so) and he smells soapy, but I don’t care because at least he’s back. I’ve had him since I was born and he was a puppy. His ears aren’t silky on the insides anymore but I still like to rub them. I felt like not-me while he was gone.

     When we got all the sand showered off us and slimy lotion gunked onto us (for our sunburns) and we went into town for dinner, I got the answer to my question.

     Gingy would be annoyed if she lost what she most loves.

     Poopsie wasn’t actually lost or mixed in with the laundry; he just didn’t realize we were being seated and he was reading a book about gardening in the bookstore while we all frantically looked for him so we could eat already.

     Gingy called him some names I am not allowed to say.


September 8, Tuesday

     Tomorrow is the first day of third grade.

     Mom said to focus on the bright side.

     Well, Xavier Schwartz is not in my class this year. That’s bright.

     No. It’s not helping. I’m still focusing on the dark side.

     Like what if Ms. Burns thinks boys and girls should never be partners? Some people think that, even some kids. If Ms. Burns thinks boys and girls have to hate each other, I will never get to be partners with Daisy, who is my best friend, who has shiny soft hair, a quiet voice, and a pet gecko.

     So I am focusing on maybe Daisy and I will stop being best friends this year, even though we’re in the same class again for the fourth year in a row, all because she is a girl and I am a boy and maybe Ms. Burns will think we should hate that about each other.

     A fire engine siren is blaring toward us. I have to decide fast whether to climb down my ladder and wake up my parents so we can evacuate and not get burned up. I’m losing precious seconds deciding.

     Okay. The fire engine seems to have gone somewhere else.

     Sometimes my heart pounds so hard it feels like it will break my ribs.


September 9, Wednesday

     Elizabeth twirled in her first-day-of-kindergarten dress as Mom and Dad smiled proudly at her. Mom said, “I can’t believe our baby is going to kindergarten.” Dad put his arms around Mom and they hugged each other.

     I didn’t hear anybody say, I can’t believe our older child is going to third grade, or hug each other about that. Instead Dad said, “Justin, why are you still in pajamas?” and then said the word hurry, like, ten times.

     I hate the word hurry. It makes my stomach scrunch.

     I ended up swallowing some toothpaste, which is not, in my opinion, an important part of a nutritious breakfast.

     On our way to school, Elizabeth held hands with both my parents and swung between them. I was thinking maybe I’d just take a short break and sit on the sidewalk for about 100 years. But I didn’t. I kept going.


     The way I am staying positive now is pretending I just nightmared the disaster that happened at school after I got to my classroom and that when I wake up, it will be the first day of third grade all over again.


September 10, Thursday

     No such luck. It really happened.

Excerpted from Justin Case by Rachel Vail and Matthew Cordell.

Copyright © 2010 by Rachel Vail.

Published in 2010 by Feiwel and Friends.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

Rachel Vail is the author of children's books including Sometimes I'm Bombaloo and Righty and Lefty, in which she also collaborated with artist Matthew Cordell. She is also the author of several books for teens and middle grade readers, including If We Kiss, You Maybe, Gorgeous, Wonder, and Never Mind, which she wrote with Avi. Vail attended Georgetown University, where she earned her B.A. in English and Theater. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.

Matthew Cordell is author and illustrator of Trouble Gum. He has also illustrated books including Mighty Casey by James Preller and Toby and the Snowflakes, written by his wife, Julie Halpern. He lives outside of Chicago.

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Justin Case 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is funny for all ages. Highly recommend!
Sam Gonzalez More than 1 year ago
i just got it and cant wait to read it!!!!:)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was amazing
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought the book and i love it!
Mindbend More than 1 year ago
My son received this book as a part of the summer reading program. This book is hilarious and fun! He doesn't like reading much but this book took him in. I did my usual and started reading to him, but after just a "few days" in the book...he said, "Can I read it myself?" For him this book is silly and weird!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I rememeber this book! Good read.
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nprgirl More than 1 year ago
Bought for my nephew on the recommendation of a friend's son who liked this book very much.
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Really good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nothing is better than this book. Its a fabulous book that everyone should read,
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