Frindle is a terrific novel that reads almost like a contemporary fable or fairy tale in its simplicity. A boy too creative for the confines of elementary school meets his match in an extremely exacting teacher. They square off in an epic battle over…an invented word.
Yes. The title comes from "frindle," the word for "pen" that young Nick Allen thinks up when he is trying to avoid working for Mrs. Granger, his fifth grade language arts teacher. Both characters are classic literary types: Nick is a smart and rebellious youth, while the legendary Mrs. Granger is a terrifyingly strict adult. Despite their seeming stereotypes, each character is far more complex.
What Frindle becomes, finally, is a story about how school, language, family, and even society as a whole exercise power and the various roles individuals play within a power structure. Some rebel, some oppress, some are ignorant of their role in the larger game, and some are completely aware. There is a tug of war over who will maintain control, and it all eventually comes down to what you call a "frindle."
The first chapter of Frindle describes Nick Allen's first acts of creative rebellion. Chapter One tells how he transformed Mrs. Deaver's third-grade classroom into a tropical paradise, complete with sand, and how he disrupted Mrs. Avery's fourth-grade class by chirping like a red-winged blackbird. These experiences set up the expectation that Nick will always find a way to get around teachers and their attempts to control the classroom.
However, that all changes in Chapter Two when Nick gets to fifth grade and has Mrs. Granger for language arts. While she was known to have a fine sense of humor, Mrs. Granger is legendary at Lincoln Elementary for three things: her strictness, her high standards, and her love of language. She sends a letter to all parents letting them know they had to have a good dictionary at home. While the other teachers start the school year by just letting the kids chat, Mrs. Granger puts them to work right away. Nick tries to disrupt the first class by asking a "thought-grenade" question about where all the words in the dictionary come from, only to have it backfire when Mrs. Granger assigns him an oral report on the subject.
While researching where words come from, Nick hatches a new plan to disrupt class. He makes his report extra long and incorporates reading a tough article from the dictionary out loud, thus whiling away most of the class period. Mrs. Granger eventually shuts him down, but Nick tries to disrupt things again by asking who decides which words mean what. Mrs. Granger tells Nick that he does—that people do.
This sparks another rebellion. As Nick is walking with his friend Janet Fisk, she finds a pen. Spontaneously, Nick calls it a "frindle." He gets his friend to help him, and they all visit the local store and ask for pens by asking for frindles. Once they establish the word there, Nick stages an event to use it in Mrs. Granger's class, asking a friend for a frindle. The kids say "frindle" instead of "cheese" when they are getting their school pictures taken. Mrs. Granger imposes a rule forbidding the use of "frindle," and requiring anyone who uses the word to stay after...
(The entire section is 881 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
The teachers and students at Lincoln Elementary do not consider Nick Allen to be a very good or very smart kid, but they would not call him a troublemaker either—at least, not exactly. The main thing about Nick is that he has a lot of ideas, and his ideas always make life interesting.
As a third grader, during a snowy February, Nick turns his classroom into a tropical island. He gets all his classmates to make palm trees out of paper and hang them on their desks. For several days, the kids wear paper flowers and sunglasses to school. Nick turns up the thermostat and spreads sand all over the floor.
Nick’s teacher, Miss Deaver, is happy to play along with his vacation game. She calls his behavior “cute” and “creative.” The school custodian, on the other hand, does not like what Nick is doing. The custodian complains to the principal about the mess of sand kids are tracking all over the school. The principal follows the sand to Miss Deaver’s classroom and puts a stop to Nick’s fun.
The next year, in fourth grade, Nick watches a TV show about red-winged blackbirds. He learns that the blackbird makes a high-pitched call whenever it senses danger. The high-pitched sounds travel through the air in such a way that hawks and other hunter birds cannot tell where they are coming from.
In class the next day, during silent reading, Nick remembers this TV show. He thinks his teacher, Mrs. Avery, looks a little like a hawk, so he lets out a couple of high-pitched “peeps!” to find out what will happen.
Mrs. Avery cannot tell where the sound is coming from. She blames Nick’s friend Janet for making the noise. Janet is surprised to be yelled at this way; she gets so upset she almost cries. Mrs. Avery sees that she has made a mistake, so she tells Janet she is sorry.
At lunch, Nick apologizes to Janet for getting her in trouble. He explains about the blackbirds, and Janet finds the idea interesting. She tries making a couple of high-pitched peeping sounds, and she promises Nick not to tell anyone what she knows.
For the rest of the year, Nick and Janet occasionally make peeping sounds in the middle of class. Miss Avery never knows who is making the noise, and eventually she gives up trying to find out. Nick and Janet agree that the whole thing is pretty fun.
Chapter 2 Summary
Now Nick Allen is starting fifth grade. At Lincoln Elementary, fifth grade is much more difficult than the other grades are. The teachers know that the kids have to get ready for middle school, so they make everyone work harder. The hardest teacher of all is Mrs. Granger.
Mrs. Granger has worked a Lincoln elementary forever, and she has never missed a day of school. She wears the same, strict-looking skirt-and-jacket suits every day. She is very small, shorter even than some fifth graders, but she seems huge to the kids. Her eyes are full of a power that can make anyone feel small.
Kids say Mrs. Granger has X-ray vision. She is famous for catching and punishing kids chewing gum—even the ones who are not in fifth grade yet. More importantly, her language arts classes are grueling. She makes kids take all kinds of spelling tests and reading tests and vocabulary tests, and she is an extremely hard grader.
Mrs. Granger loves the dictionary. Every week, she makes her class learn thirty-five vocabulary words. She writes a Word of the Day on the board every day, and if a kid forgets to learn the definition, she always finds out. She has thirty-five student dictionaries in her classroom, one for each student in the class. Plus she has a huge dictionary so big it takes two kids to carry it, which she keeps on a kind of pedestal at the front of the classroom. “Look it up!” Mrs. Granger loves to say. “That’s why we have the dictionary.”
Over summer vacation, even before Nick begins fifth grade, his parents get a letter from Mrs. Granger. She explains that “clear thinking requires a command of the English language” and gives parents a list of dictionaries his parents can buy for Nick to study at home. Nick’s mother thinks it is wonderful that his new teacher is so serious about her work, but Nick is not so happy.
Nick does not like dictionaries. He likes words but he prefers to learn them by reading or asking his dad. He knows he will not get to learn that way in school this year. He remembers seeing last year’s fifth graders always in the library, always stressed out, always forced to look up another enormous list of words to satisfy Mrs. Granger. Nick worries that fifth grade will be terrible.
Chapter 3 Summary
Nick’s first day of fifth grade begins easily. For six straight periods, he picks up new textbooks and spends the rest of his time chatting happily with his friends. Then seventh period arrives and he goes to language arts, where he finds out that Mrs. Granger really is as bad as everyone says she is.
Mrs. Granger starts class with a pretest of the week’s vocabulary words. She throws all kinds of work in front of the kids: handouts, review papers, sample assignments that demonstrate how she wants her students’ homework to look. Nick finds the pace of the class exhausting.
Nick is an expert on wasting class time. His best method for doing this is to ask questions that get teachers off track. He can usually get teachers to talk about sports or hobbies or the news so the kids can take a moment to just chill out.
Whenever Nick can manage it, he asks a question to get his teacher sidetracked during the last three minutes of class. If Nick’s question keeps a teacher off topic long enough—as it usually does—he can prevent the teacher from giving out homework.
On his first day in Mrs. Granger’s class, Nick bides his time, waiting for the critical moment. Then he raises his hand and pretends to be very impressed by the number of dictionaries in the room. He asks, “Where did all those words come from?”
The kids in Nick’s class smile and glance at the clock. They know exactly why he is asking this question. Unfortunately, Mrs. Granger does too. “Why, what an interesting question, Nicholas. I could talk about that for hours, I bet.”
Mrs. Granger asks the other kids if they are interested in hearing the answer to Nick’s question. When most of them say yes, Mrs. Granger tells Nick to go home and do research to find the answer himself. She gives him a special assignment to deliver an oral report about dictionaries during class the next day. Then she goes back to giving out homework.
Nick is shocked and embarrassed. He cannot believe that Mrs. Granger is so good at spotting attempts to stop her from giving out work. Moreover, he is horrified that he now has to do extra work on top of the assignment Mrs. Granger was planning for the whole class. He realizes that all the stories he has heard about this teacher are true. Nobody can mess with Mrs. Granger.
Chapter 4 Summary
The weather is beautiful, but Nick has to stay inside. He has to copy definitions for thirty-five vocabulary words for Mrs. Granger, and when he is done with that, he has to prepare his oral report. Nick’s parents have a rule about this: he has to do all of his homework, every day, before he does anything fun.
Homework First has always been the rule at Nick’s house. In the past two years, ever since Nick’s older brother, James, went to college, Nick’s parents have grown especially strict about it. James hated having to do homework first when he lived at home. Now that he is in college, however, he has changed his mind. He says that he gets good grades because his parents’ rule taught him good study habits....
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
During school the next day, Nick grows more and more nervous about his report. He looks over his notes, but they all get jumbled in his mind. He begins to doubt his big idea.
The day rushes by, and seventh period arrives before Nick knows it. Mrs. Granger has not forgotten his extra assignment, and she wastes no time asking Nick to give his report. Nervously, Nick begins to speak. Mrs. Granger immediately interrupts, asking if his report has a title. When Nick says no, she says every report should have a title. Nick does not let this interruption get him down. He makes up a title, “The Dictionary,” on the spot, and plunges onward. He tells the kids about Samuel Johnson, who is considered to be the author of the...
(The entire section is 576 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
After his report, Nick walks home with his friend Janet Fisk. The two of them play a game in which they walk along a curb and try not to fall off. Whenever one of them steps off the curb, the other gets a point.
Partway home, Janet finds an expensive gold pen on the ground. She stops their game for a moment to pick it up.
As Nick walks along the curb, he thinks about what Mrs. Granger said about words. Mrs. Granger said that he, Nick, decides what words mean. Nick tries to understand that. He thinks back to when he was little, before he really knew how to talk. He used to point to a tape recorder and say “gwagala” when he wanted his parents or brother to switch it on so he could hear music. He called...
(The entire section is 453 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Nick is excited about his new word. He is ready to take his plan to the next level by convincing more kids to say "frindle" instead of "pen." He knows exactly where and how he wants to get more attention for his new word.
In Mrs. Granger’s class, Nick raises his hand. “Mrs. Granger, I forgot my frindle,” he says. Before Mrs. Granger has a chance to answer, Nick’s friend John jumps in to say he has an extra one Nick can borrow. John rummages through his backpack. As he looks, he says the word "frindle" several times. When he finds a pen, he makes sure everyone in the class sees him tossing it over to Nick. Nick misses catching the pen—the frindle—on purpose, then takes his time picking it up off the floor....
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
On school picture day, Nick and his friends make another plan involving the word "frindle." They whisper the plan to all of the other kids, who agree to play along.
The photographer lines up the class for a group photo. He tells everyone to say cheese, but nobody does. Instead, they say, “Frindle!” They all pull out frindles and hold them up to show the camera. The photographer has no more film, so he cannot take another picture. The frindle picture will be the permanent record of Nick’s fifth-grade class. All the teachers are angry about it, especially Mrs. Granger.
The next day, Mrs. Granger puts a note on the bulletin board:
Anyone who is heard using the word...
(The entire section is 551 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
The principal of Lincoln Elementary, Mrs. Chatham, comes to visit Nick and his parents at home. The four of them sit down to have a chat.
Nick finds Mrs. Chatham a little scary. She is as big as Nick’s father, who played linebacker in college football, and she sits stiff and unsmiling in Nick’s living room. She explains the whole story about the word "frindle" from her perspective. She talks about the word, the detentions, and the feud between Nick and Mrs. Granger. She says that the kids’ game with their new word shows a lack of respect for authority.
As Mrs. Chatham talks, Nick watches his parents. His dad looks embarrassed but his mom looks annoyed. She is on Nick’s side. She tells Mrs. Chatham...
(The entire section is 459 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Judy Morgan, a reporter for the Westfield Gazette, hears about the word "frindle" from a coworker who has a daughter at Lincoln Elementary. The coworker does not really know what is going on at the school, but he thinks the kids are all using a secret code and refusing to obey teachers. Judy Morgan thinks it sounds like a good story.
One afternoon, Judy Morgan stops by Lincoln Elementary School. After taking a picture of Mrs. Granger’s note promising to punish kids who use the word "frindle," Judy Morgan asks the secretary about the word. The secretary, who is sick of the whole thing, sends the reporter to talk to the principal, Mrs. Chatham.
Mrs. Chatham tells Judy Morgan that kids are rebelling...
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
The Thursday after Judy Morgan’s visit to Lincoln Elementary, her story about Nick Allen, Mrs. Granger, and the word "frindle" appears on the first page of the Westfield Gazette. The newspaper sells 12,297 copies. Right on top of all of them is the following headline:
Local 5th Grader Says, “Move Over, Mr. Webster.”
This title makes it sound like Nick is pushing aside the authority of Webster’s Dictionary to make room for his new word.
The rest of the article is just as flashy as the title. Judy Morgan tells the truth, but she does it in a way that makes the conflict at Nick’s school sound extra impressive. She calls Mrs. Granger...
(The entire section is 436 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
The article in the Westfield Gazette spreads the use of the word "frindle" beyond Nick’s school. Junior high and high school kids start using it. It also makes Nick a local celebrity. People notice him wherever he goes and expect him to be funny and clever all the time. This is difficult for him.
After Nick’s mom calms down from her initial anger, Nick’s parents are nice about the problem. Nick says he did not do anything wrong, and they can see this is true. Nick’s parents find it strange to hear people talking about their son, but in some ways they are pleased and proud that Nick has done something so unusual.
A local businessman, Bud Lawrence, sees something more in the word "frindle"...
(The entire section is 764 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Eventually everything gets back to normal in Westfield again, just as Nick’s dad hoped. The frindle battle at Lincoln Elementary School ends, and it is clear which side wins. A lot of the kids and even some of the teachers keep using the word "frindle." At first they do it on purpose, but after a while it becomes a habit. Soon "frindle" is just an ordinary word to them. People still use it, but they stop thinking about it.
Across the country, kids in other towns and cities keep picking up the word "frindle." Over and over, the events from Nick’s school repeat themselves. Parents and teachers keep trying to stop kids from saying "frindle," and kids do not stop because saying the new word is fun. Bud Lawrence loves it...
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
After frindle mania dies down, Nick becomes a slightly different person. He still has big ideas, but now they scare him a bit.
One day in social studies, Nick learns that if people stop buying products, stores and restaurants can go out of business. It hits him that the school cafeteria is like a restaurant and that the kids have the power to make the cafeteria serve good food instead of bad food. Nick knows he can convince everyone to bring their lunch every day until the lunch ladies agree to cook better food. Nick is sure it will work, and for a moment the idea excites him.
Then Nick wonders what will happen if his cafeteria idea gets as out of control as his frindle idea did. What if everyone does what...
(The entire section is 478 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
When Nick Allen is a junior in college, he turns twenty-one. He finds out about the trust fund his father set up when he was in fifth grade. Suddenly Nick has more money that he knows what to do with.
Nick gives some of his money to his parents so they can take a big trip. He gives some to his brother to set up a college savings account for his brother’s little girl. Nick also buys a computer, some games, and a bike. Then he pretty much forgets about the money and goes back to being an ordinary college student.
That fall, Nick receives a big, heavy package from Mrs. Granger. Inside the package is a brand-new dictionary, a note, and the envelope Mrs. Granger made him sign ten years ago.
(The entire section is 536 words.)