15/02/2012

The School Story (by Andrew Clements)

Despite the popularity of the teenage book 'Frindle', I had never read anything by the prolific American author Andrew Clements. But a good friend recommended - and lent me - this one, and I have very much enjoyed it. Perhaps I'll look out for other books by this author in future.

'The School Story' is a wonderful children's novel, aimed at the 8-12 age-group. It's set in a school, but much of the action takes place elsewhere. Twelve-year-old Natalie has written a short novel, and her best friend Zoe is convinced it should be published. Natalie's mother is an editor working in a publishing house, but Natalie doesn't want her to be biased... so the girls enlist the help of their English teacher Ms Clayton, invent pseudonyms for themselves, and work out how to get the book into Natalie's mother's hands.

The characterisation is excellent, contrasting the quiet Natalie who lacks confidence and the outgoing, sometimes pushy Zoe; it's this contrast which moves the story along, making it difficult to put down, even though some of the ideas the girls have seem rather far-fetched when I think about them now. I suppose it's educational in a low-key kind of way, covering as it does the processes required to get a book published, including legal contracts and publicity. There are are one or two less likeable, caricatured people - Natalie's mother's boss Letha springs to mind - and while it isn't a humorous novel, there's a light-hearted feel to it which made me smile in places.

Part of the reason it's such a good book is that it's more than just the story of Natalie's novel. There are themes to be explored, such as office rivalry, and beginning to come to terms with the loss of a parent, as well as the importance of standing up for one's dreams.

I think this would be excellent for the intended age-range - the 'middle grades' of the USA, or upper primary school and early secondary in the UK. It might also be enjoyed by teenagers interested in the publication process, if they could get past the fairly large font. I expect most parents would enjoy it too, as there's sufficient in it to appeal to a wide range of people, so it could make a good book to read aloud.

Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys children's books. Unfortunately it's not currently in print in the UK, although it's available second hand or on Kindle.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 15th February 2012

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