The School Story by Andrew Clements, published in 2001, features two child characters who pursue and achieve an adult-sized goal.
Natalie Nelson is writing a book, and her best friend, Zoe, thinks it is good. At least, Zoe thinks the beginning is good, and she wants to read more. Natalie is excited and gives Zoe the manuscript for the rest of the book—except for the last five chapters, which she has not yet written.
Natalie had the idea to write a book four months ago. Her mom, who works as an editor in New York City, mentioned one day that her publisher was looking for school stories. When Natalie asked, her mom explained that they are stories about real-life kids going to school. Natalie considered how much time she spent at school and thought, “I bet I could write a school story.”
Even before she started writing her novel, Natalie was a writer. She has loved books as long as she can remember, since before she could read. By the age of four, Natalie figured out how to read on her own and began reading to herself. Her mom and dad still read to her every night, though—at least until the car crash killed her dad. Then Natalie hid a lot of her favorite books because it was too sad to hear them out loud and remember how her dad used to read them.
As she learned to read, Natalie also learned to write. She tried making up poems like the ones she heard, or she pretended her stuffed animals were characters from books. She thought all about authors and imagined them writing the stories she loved. Eventually she imagined herself as a writer, too. By fourth grade, she converted a corner of the loft apartment she shared with her mom into her personal writing spot. For the last couple of years, she has spent a great deal of time working there.
Now Zoe thinks Natalie should try to get her book, The Cheater, published. Natalie does not want any favors from her mother, so Zoe suggests that Natalie submit the book under a pen name. Natalie comes up with a name to use: Cassandra Day.
Later, without saying why, Natalie asks her mom about publishing. Her mom, whose name is Hannah, explains that almost all of the books authors submit get rejected. Every year, thousands of books get written but only the best few make it to publication. Writers have better chances if they are represented by people called literary agents, who work hard to search out new talent. Natalie realizes that no agent would work for a twelve year old. The whole idea of publishing is so daunting that Natalie can hardly face finishing her story.
Natalie is lucky she has Zoe. Zoe is a big talker and always wins arguments. Like Natalie, she has loved books since she was little. She, too, knows something about publishing because she often reads Publisher’s Weekly at her dad’s office. Zoe not only talks Natalie into finishing her novel, she also volunteers to become Natalie’s agent. Natalie does not think this plan will work but agrees to give it a shot if their English teacher, Ms. Clayton, will advise them.
Ms. Clayton is a young, dedicated teacher, but she is reluctant at first to get involved with Zoe’s plan. She has a great deal of work to do already, and it seems like too much trouble. When Zoe sees that Ms. Clayton is about to refuse, she hands over Natalie’s manuscript and leaves. That afternoon, Ms. Clayton reads the book. She loves it and is amazed that a twelve-year-old child wrote it. She agrees become the girls’ adviser.
Natalie is energized by having an adult say her work is good. She works two hours every weeknight and all day Saturday and Sunday to finish her book. Hannah complains about how little time they have to spend together. Natalie is proud of how the ending of her book turns out, but she resists telling Hannah about it. Natalie is not yet ready to explain what she is doing.
As the girls pursue the publishing plan, Ms. Clayton gives them valuable help. She objects when she learns that Zoe wants to use a false name, Sherry Clutch, when she acts as Natalie’s agent. Zoe changes her plan slightly, calling her agency the Sherry Clutch Literary Agency but using a different pronunciation of her own name for her identity. Ms. Clayton also helps the girls open an instant office; she pays three hundred and fifty dollars for a mailing address, phone number, fax number, and answering machine that are registered to the Sherry Clutch Literary Agency. Zoe has the money to pay for this, but Ms. Clayton feels irresponsible using a child’s money this way. She puts the office space on her own credit card and hopes for the best.
When the girls submit Natalie’s book to Hannah, they have a stroke of luck. Hannah’s pushy, stuck-up boss sees the envelope and pretends to know the Sherry Clutch Literary Agency. She orders Natalie’s mom to read the book over the weekend. Natalie is edgy all weekend, and on Sunday her mother mentions that the manuscript is one of the best she has read in a long time. Privately, Hannah wonders if the book will be...
(The entire section is 2048 words.)