Reviewed June 23, 2004.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2004. 173
Available at Sembach Library (J MCN F CLE).
Nora is a genius. She’s so brilliant that when she was a baby she
figured out that if anyone, even her parents, found out what she could
do, she would stand out like a freak. So she decides to be
normal. She even studies up on the standardized test all the kids
take to find out exactly how many questions to miss to be sure the
results show her to be completely
But her friend Stephen doesn’t do so well on the standardized test, and
he starts feeling like he is stupid. School becomes a struggle
So Nora decides to make a point about grades, to show everyone that
in fifth grade are not so important, and don’t define who you
She gets straight D’s.
This unleashes a furor in which Nora’s cover gets blown and a whole
class decides to get zeroes on a test. In the end, they all get a
reminder that grades should not define who you are or what you can be.
I would have liked this book much better if I hadn’t recently read Millicent Min, Girl Genius.
Nora felt like a bit of a caricature, but Millicent Min was one
particular, very human genius whom I could believe in. I didn’t
quite believe that
Nora could really have fooled her parents into thinking she was average
for so long.
This book felt like it was more about the message that grades should
not be so important than it was about the story. I wasn’t sure I
the way the message was presented. Though I know I as a parent
go overboard in emphasizing grades, I didn’t like the way the book
to be against programs for the gifted. When Nora’s told she’s
to be switched to gifted classes, she says, “But if I finish my work or
I already understand what the teacher’s talking about, then I can just
about something else. I’ve always had plenty to think
I’ll run math problems in my head. I’ll think about the poems
got memorized. Or I can get out a book and read. I want to
in the normal classes because I like normal kids. I don’t want
treatment, and I don’t want teachers who are always trying to push me
On the one hand, there’s something in the message. When I read Smart Boys,
that the author found gifted men living average, normal lives as
a failure. Do smart boys have to end up as brilliant, rich
men? Why do we feel we have to push smart kids to perform
their age mates?
On the other hand, why should kids have to sit in classes where a
teacher is trying to teach them something they already know? This
that smart kids already have enough resources isn’t always fair to
them. I suppose if a child like Nora truly didn’t want to join a
we shouldn’t make her. However, I do think it’s better if more
challenging classes are available. In this book, Nora’s doing all
outside of class, using her own resources and the internet.
it be nice if she could find a teacher who would actually teach her
I’ve thought a lot about programs for the gifted, so forgive me if I
use this as an excuse to go on a bit. Is it really fair to make a
sit through someone trying to teach them skills they’ve already
mastered? Early elementary school is devoted to teaching kids to
read. So what do you do with a kid who’s already reading novels
at a sixth grade level? I know that it’s thought of as terrible
to separate kids by ability, but
putting such a child into the same group as slow readers will only
everyone. The fast reader will end up trying to read slowly in
to fit in.
Math is another area where the learning at most levels is about
skills. Once a child completely understands fractions, they don’t
need to go over and over it. This is why I had my son advanced
three years ahead of his grade in Math. He had the skills to do
Algebra, so why hold him back? On the other hand, in areas like
English, once they get past
learning the skill of reading, literature is about ideas, and I thought
still have plenty to learn with his age-mates.
Another reason to have programs for the gifted is to keep them from
getting used to not learning anything in school. My same son had
a rude awakening in fourth grade when they wanted him to do projects,
requiring time. When schoolwork was only studying, he didn’t need
to spend any time outside of class because he either already knew the
material or could learn it quickly. If you can keep such kids
from forgetting how much fun it is to actually
learn something, you’ve done everyone a favor.
Bottom line, I truly don’t believe that a genius like Nora could ever
hide her intelligence from everyone so effectively. People say
that having programs for the gifted makes those who are “not gifted”
feel dumb. (And this book was really about good-hearted Stephen,
who didn’t perform
well on his achievement test because of test anxiety.) However,
if adults don’t do the labeling, the kids always know who the “brain”
is. Yes, extremely bright kids do want to fit in (and you would
them flaunting it, like the obnoxious kid in Nora’s class), but through
so many little things like vocabulary, speed at doing work, and the
they choose to read, they always give themselves away. How much
it would be to give them a place where it’s okay to be who they are.
So I had two complaints about the book. The focus was more on the
message than the story, and I had some qualms about the message.
Also, Nora was a bit of a cardboard character. I wasn’t quite
sure I believed in her.
Still, the book did have an interesting message, and could spark some
interesting discussion with kids. Do they think grades are
emphasized too much? How do they feel about standardized test
scores? What about publicizing an Honor Roll? For that
matter, you can ask them what they do when
the teacher’s talking about something they already know. This
brings up some interesting things to think about.
Reviews of other books by Andrew Clements:
A Week in the Woods
Jake Drake: Teacher's Pet
The School Story
Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund. All