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.

In the past, Nick never minded doing his homework first because he never had much homework. There were a few little spelling words to learn or book reports to write, but these assignments never took Nick much time. He realizes now that Mrs. Granger is probably going to change that.

Nick can hear the other kids from his neighborhood playing baseball outside, but he does not go out and join them. He does his vocabulary work, and then he flips to the introduction section of his study dictionary and finds an article called “Words and Their Origins.”

Seeing this title, Nick thinks he has found the perfect source for his report. He grows hopeful that he will be able join the baseball game in a few minutes. Then he reads the first sentence of “Words and Their Origins”—it is about a hundred words long and includes phrases like “unparalleled etymological detail” and “superb lexicographic scholarship.” Nick reads this sentence twice before deciding he has no hope at all of figuring out what it means.

Changing tactics, Nick goes downstairs and looks up “dictionary” in the encyclopedia. His family has two sets of encyclopedias, one for adults and one for kids, so Nick starts on the kid one. He reads the entire entry, and then he looks up the entry in the adult encyclopedia and reads a lot of that, too. He understands a bit of it, but it all seems dry and boring to him. He collapses on the couch, wondering how he will ever give a report on this topic.

That is when Nick has an idea. Maybe Mrs. Granger is not unstoppable after all. Maybe Nick can use his report to have a little fun.