Book: The School Story

Cover image

The School Story

Author: Andrew Clements, Brian Selznick
Publisher: Aladdin

Twelve-year-old Natalie Nelson has written a powerful school story. It’s a short novel called “The Cheater,” and her best friend Zoe is certain it should be published. All Natalie has to do is give the manuscript to her mom, an editor at a big publishing house. However Natalie doesn’t want any favors from her mom. Still, Zoe won’t drop the idea.

Spurred into action, Natalie invents a pen name for herself and Zoe becomes a self-styled literary agent. But if the girls are to succeed, they’ll need support from their wary English teacher, legal advice from Zoe’s tough-talking father, and some clever maneuvering to outwit the overbearing editor in chief of Shipley Junior Books.

Andrew Clements, the best-selling author of Frindle, The Landry News, and The Janitor’s Boy, delights his audience with this story of two irrepressible girls who use their talent, ingenuity, and a little cunning to try to make a young writer’s dream come true.


Don’t mess with Zee Zee Reisman from the Sherry Clutch Literary Agency. Especially when she’s promoting the hot new novelist Cassandra Day. New York’s publishing scene is familiar with tough players like Zee Zee, and impressed by the book she’s pushing…but stunned when they find out Zee Zee and Cassandra are both 12-year-old girls. Zee Zee is really Zoe, fiercely loyal and self-assured best friend to Natalie Nelson, a.k.a. Cassandra Day. When Natalie writes a story, a really good story, Zoe is determined to let the whole world know. Using her formidable wits and all the resources available to a well-to-do New York City girl, Zoe, along with their timid English teacher, Ms. Clayton, proceeds to chip away at the challenge. The catch? The editor Natalie wants happens to be her own mother, an editor at Shipley Junior Books. But Natalie wants her authorship to remain a secret to her mom so that she’ll get a fair shake. What ensues is a masterfully elaborate plot to get the manuscript in the right hands—and away from the arrogant, unfriendly editor in chief.

A highly original plot with plenty of intriguing side stories makes this a thoroughly satisfying read, especially for future novelists, agents, and editors. The publishing world is explored in just enough detail to gently banish romantic notions, but not to quell enthusiasm. The subplot around Natalie’s father, who died four years earlier, is an almost silent but strong undercurrent to the story. This graceful and enjoyable novel from Andrew Clements (the bestselling author of The Janitor’s Boy, Frindle, and The Landry News) is illustrated with rather gloomy, yet strangely funny black-and-white drawings from Brian Selznick, the illustrator of Clements’ Frindle and The Landry News. (Ages 8 to 12) —Emilie Coulter

Barnes and Noble

Tales of determination and perseverance strike a chord with young readers, and they will become instantly engaged with 12-year-old Natalie, an enthusiastic writer who has penned a novel. It’s a school story entitled The Cheater, and if Natalie’s best friend, Zoë, and her English teacher, Ms. Clayton, can be believed, it’s an exceptional tale. So it’s a good thing that Natalie’s mother works as an editor at a major New York City publishing house. Except for one thing—Natalie wants the book to succeed on its own merits and not just because she’s the editor’s daughter.

Together, Natalie and Zoë cook up a scheme that involves submitting Natalie’s book under a pseudonym, while Zoë pretends to be an agent. It seems far-fetched at first, but with a little help from their teacher and some last-minute assistance from Zoë’s father, they not only submit the book and get it accepted—after its release, it becomes a bestseller. But all is not rosy. Some unanticipated events place Natalie’s mother’s job in jeopardy, putting Zoë and Natalie’s talent for scheming to a true test.

Award-winning and bestselling children’s author Andrew Clements not only provides a pretty thorough education about what goes on in the publishing industry; he also offers a tale-within-a-tale by providing snippets from Natalie’s book. The story and its characters are further brought to life through the finely detailed drawings of Brian Selznick. The School Story emphasizes aspirations and possibilities, while also providing a great lesson on recognizing and celebrating the differences, strengths, and weaknesses in all of us. As such, this delightful tale should ignite a creative spark in young minds, making it an excellent platform for launching classroom discussions and projects. (Beth Amos)

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