The Landry News by Andrew Clements begins as the story of a fifth-grade girl’s conflict with her teacher, but it grows into an insightful commentary on education, family, and the freedom of speech. The main character and her teacher both begin the story full of flaws, but they manage to challenge each other to achieve more and become better people.

Cara Landry has attended Denton Elementary School for four months, and nobody has noticed her. Today she gets attention—not all of it positive—when she pins the first edition of her newspaper, The Landry News, to the wall. The paper is well written, but it contains an editorial that says her teacher, Mr. Larson, is lazy. In his classroom,

There has been learning, but there has been no teaching. There is a teacher in the classroom, but he does not teach.

In front of the kids, Mr. Larson tears the paper to shreds. He drives home fuming about Cara’s accusations. He has been a teacher for years, and students like Cara know little about him. He used to be great at his job and was often voted Teacher of the Year by his students. Now he is burned out, and all he does is sit around reading the newspaper while his students goof off. At home, Mr. Larson tells his wife about the editorial. She takes Cara’s side as kindly as she can: “Sounds like this little girl is looking for a teacher, Karl—that’s all.” Mr. Larson faces the fact that he is letting his students down, and he resolves to do something about it.

The same evening, Cara brings her shredded newspaper home and tapes it together. Her mother sees the editorial and gets upset. Last year, at her old school, Cara started a similar newspaper just after her parents got divorced. She poured all her anger into her articles, trying to make others feel as hurt as she felt. Cara explains to her mother that she is not so angry anymore and that she wants to make a newspaper because she is good at it. When she promises to use her articles to tell the truth, her mother says:

But when you are publishing all that truth, just be sure there’s some mercy, too.

Cara takes this advice to heart and creates a new motto for her newspaper: “Truth and Mercy.”

On Monday, Cara brings a note of apology for Mr. Larson, but she is too scared to give it to him. It turns out she does not have to. To everyone’s surprise, Mr. Larson stands up in front of the class and starts a discussion about newspapers. Most kids in the class only read the comics and the sports section, but Cara says her favorite part of the paper is the editorial section because “you get to see the heart of a newspaper.” After the discussion, Mr. Landry sets the class to work reading editorials.

Cara sits down to do Mr. Landry’s assignment, but Joey DeLucca interrupts her. He offers to help with the next edition of The Landry News. Cara agrees, and Joey helps her put the paper together on the computer. On Friday they publish a new issue containing articles about favorite teachers, bad-smelling locker rooms, and bad cafeteria foods. Most importantly, it contains an editorial announcing that from now on The Landry News will be a “good-hearted newspaper.” When Mr. Larson reads it, it brings tears to his eyes.

A copy of the new and improved Landry News makes it to Dr. Barnes, the school principal. Dr. Barnes reads the whole thing, and initially he is impressed by the writing and content. However, he gets upset when he sees Mr. Larson’s name listed first among adults who helped produce the paper. For years, Dr. Barnes has rated Mr. Larson’s teaching “Poor” and “Unacceptable.” He would love to fire Mr. Larson if he could, but firing a teacher is a hard thing to do. Dr. Barnes thinks it over and decides that The Landry News may give him a chance to kick Mr. Larson out.

In the next class period, Mr. Larson leads a discussion about differences between The Landry News and professional papers like The Chicago Tribune. When a kid points out that their school paper could include many of the...

(The entire section is 1694 words.)