Aspiring athletes can watch the Olympics, and wannabe actors have the Oscars to anticipate each year. But where can young writers go for inspiration? After all, they need hope that success is within their reach. They need to hear those stories of impossible dreams coming true. They need to see how J. K. Rowling, a single parent, persevered against all odds. Alas, the last time I checked, the major networks weren't lining up to bring the National Book Awards or the Caldecott/Newbery banquet into the homes of millions. And it seems to me that 99% of the authors I see on talk shows already were celebrities before they got published.
But never fear. Andrew Clements, the popular author of the best-selling Frindle, has just written The School Story, a sort of fairytale for young writers. The book centers on two sophisticated 12-year-old New Yorkers: Natalie, who has just written a short novel, and her irrepressible friend, Zoe, who knows something good when she sees it. The two girls team up to get Natalie's remarkable first novel into the hands of a children's editor they just happen to know Natalie's mother. But the girls know Natalie's mother will never take the manuscript seriously if she realizes her daughter wrote it, so they set in motion a hilarious scheme. Zoe transforms herself into a savvy literary agent named Zee Zee, and Natalie, her client, takes on the pseudonym Cassandra Day. The School Story is a page-turner that brims with suspense as the girls hatch their plot, and it bursts with delicious details about the inner workings of a publishing house. (Anyone who knows publishing will delight in reading about how Zee Zee outfoxes the overbearing editor who wants to wrest the promising book away from Natalie's mother.) And there's just enough emphasis on the hard work of writing to warm any teacher's heart.
Young readers are sure to get caught up in Natalie and Zoe's tale. And along the way, some dreams just may get born.
Deborah Hopkinson wishes The School Story had been around when she published her first picture book in 1990. She definitely would have learned something!