The author of Frindle and The Landry News returns with a touching novel about a boy who is ashamed of the fact that his father is the janitor at his school. Jack Rankin, 11, is a good kid who has always gotten along just fine with his parents. But when Jack starts fifth grade (temporarily located in the town high school in which Jack’s father has been the janitor for many years), the trouble starts. Some of the meaner fifth graders give Jack a hard time about his father’s job. “Must take a lot of talent to clean up a bunch of puke, huh? Sure wish I could learn how to do that,” says one particularly obnoxious classmate. In a misguided attempt to get back at his father, Jack puts the biggest gob of bubble gum known to mankind underneath a desk in one of the classrooms. The culprit is quickly discovered and Jack is sentenced to after-school janitorial gum patrol for three weeks. During his new extracurricular activity, Jack explores the old school building, discovering an underground tunnel with a secret apartment at its end—and also discovering that there are parts of his father’s life that he knows nothing about. But while the first half of this book is great, accurately capturing the voice of an 11-year-old boy, the second half works too hard to show us that Jack’s father is a good man who is more than just a janitor. What would be wrong with being just a janitor, a wonderful father, and a good husband? An enjoyable read and a good jumping-off point for classroom discussions about class and economic status in America, but too heavy-handed to be satisfying. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-689-81818-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs.


Rejoice! 25 years later, Wayside School is still in session, and the children in Mrs. Jewls’ 30th-floor classroom haven’t changed a bit.

The surreal yet oddly educational nature of their misadventures hasn’t either. There are out-and-out rib ticklers, such as a spelling lesson featuring made-up words and a determined class effort to collect 1 million nail clippings. Additionally, mean queen Kathy steps through a mirror that turns her weirdly nice and she discovers that she likes it, a four-way friendship survives a dumpster dive after lost homework, and Mrs. Jewls makes sure that a long-threatened “Ultimate Test” allows every student to show off a special talent. Episodic though the 30 new chapters are, there are continuing elements that bind them—even to previous outings, such as the note to an elusive teacher Calvin has been carrying since Sideways Stories From Wayside School (1978) and finally delivers. Add to that plenty of deadpan dialogue (“Arithmetic makes my brain numb,” complains Dameon. “That’s why they’re called ‘numb-ers,’ ” explains D.J.) and a wild storm from the titular cloud that shuffles the school’s contents “like a deck of cards,” and Sachar once again dishes up a confection as scrambled and delicious as lunch lady Miss Mush’s improvised “Rainbow Stew.” Diversity is primarily conveyed in the illustrations.

Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296538-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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This revenger’s comedy, dotted with references to classic plays and philosophical concepts, will be a joy for pranksters and...


From the Terrible Two series , Vol. 2

When pranking perfection meets the seemingly unprankable foe, who gets the last laugh?

Terrible Two Niles and Miles have been merrily pranking their favorite targets, Principal Barkin and his dim, loathsome son Josh, at school and in town all autumn long. Fed up with the plague of pranks, former Principal Barkin (father of the current one) stages a coup d’état at a school board meeting and takes back his old job. This new-old Principal Barkin is draconian in his control of the school. He hangs a sign counting the days since the last prank…which, since he avows there is no prank if no one reacts (and he never reacts), means there have been no pranks. Miles and Niles despair as one after another of their complex, devious plots are ignored. School becomes unbearable until they seek help from a most unlikely source. Can three succeed where two have failed? John and Barnett’s sophomore effort is as much fun as series opener The Terrible Two (2015). The boys’ history as rivals and their home lives barely receive mention here, so the first volume is a must-read—no hardship. Cornell’s line drawings add to the goofy, deadpan experience.

This revenger’s comedy, dotted with references to classic plays and philosophical concepts, will be a joy for pranksters and seekers of a good-hearted laugh. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4197-1680-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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