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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1694

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...

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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 elements of professional papers, Mr. Landry refers the comment to Cara, the editor-in-chief. Cara agrees to add more to the paper and to let the whole class work on it if they want to. Soon all the kids are contributing. Their work is loud and somewhat chaotic, but Mr. Landry loves it. He sits down to read his paper and lets the kids get on with their work.

That afternoon, Dr. Barnes announces that he wants the chance to approve the content of The Landry News before it goes to print every week. Mr. Larson refuses, saying that the newspaper is a classroom paper, not a school paper. At first, Dr. Barnes is upset by this, but he decides he is pleased when Mr. Larson takes full responsibility for the contents of The Landry News. If anything objectionable appears in the paper, Dr. Barns will have all the reason he needs to get the school board’s support in firing Mr. Larson.

After his discussion with Dr. Barnes, Mr. Landry teaches his class about freedom of speech. He asks the kids who has the right to decide what gets printed in The Landry News. Most of the kids say Cara is in charge, but Cara is already beginning to understand that the class, who writes the content, and the school, which provides the material, can influence the content. By the end of the discussion, she is pretty sure she will find out how much freedom of speech her newspaper has.

By December, Cara’s newspaper has grown so much that the kids have to print 375 copies. Cara loves being the editor-in-chief; it makes her feel useful and important at school. Mr. Larson is beginning to love teaching again. He stays in the background as much as he can, but every now and then he finds a way to push the kids’ work to the next level. The other teachers at Denton Elementary are impressed with the paper, as are the parents—including Cara’s mom.

But the newest edition of The Landry News contains a controversial story, a true story about a boy adjusting to his parents’ divorce. When Dr. Barnes sees it, he is thrilled. He knows it can provide an excuse to push Mr. Larson out of the school. Within a week, Mr. Larson gets a letter asking him to attend a disciplinary hearing. Mr. Larson knows that he may deserve to be fired for having been a poor teacher in the past. However, he also knows that this attack will hurt the kids—who are innocent of any wrongdoing—as much as him. He resolves to do everything in his power to protect the kids. To do this, he uses the hearing as a teaching opportunity.

When Cara learns about Mr. Larson’s hearing, she is furious with herself. It was her choice to publish the story in question, and she feels responsible for what is happening to her teacher. However, Mr. Larson keeps focus on the issue of freedom of speech and not on the consequences for himself. Slowly he convinces all the kids, including Cara, that this hearing will be an opportunity to learn: “It’s like we get to mess around in our own private democracy laboratory!” Cara leaves class feeling somewhat hopeful.

In the lead-up to the hearing, Cara and Joey begin producing a new paper, the Guardian. Cara is editor-in-chief, but the kids make it and distribute the new paper without using school materials or accepting help from teachers. When Dr. Barnes finds a copy on the floor, he calls Cara into his office. She promises to print “Please don’t litter” on the next edition. She can tell this makes him very angry, but she knows he can do nothing about it because the new paper has nothing to do with the school.

The whole class attends the hearing, and the school board hears both Dr. Barnes and Mr. Larson tell their sides of the story about Cara’s newspaper. When it is Mr. Larson’s turn to speak, he points out that schools are supposed to have specific guidelines in place if they want to censor a student newspaper. Michael, the boy who wrote the story about his parents’ divorce, reads his piece out loud. It is gritty and realistic; it includes a part about running away from his dad and finding the police at his house when he returns. His story ends with his acceptance of the new situation, however, and he acknowledges that divorce is not the end of love in a family.

By the time Michael finishes reading his story, several members of the audience are crying. Mr. Larson says that this sort of writing is not only appropriate but necessary for elementary school students because it concerns an issue that is part of their lives. He admits that he has been a poor teacher in the past:

But what has happened with this newspaper—and that includes allowing this story to be published—is some of the best work I have done in all my nineteen years as a teacher. If I am to be fired, please, let it be for something other than this.

When he sits down, everyone leaps up and applauds. The school board knows it has lost, and the members vote against disciplining Mr. Larson.

As everyone leaves, Cara’s friends hand out the latest edition of The Landry News. There is only one article: “LARSON IS VINDICATED!” In it, Cara thanks Mr. Larson for helping The Landry News become a good-hearted newspaper, and she says her time in his class has been the best of her school career. She ends the article with the hope that Mr. Larson will be voted Teacher of the Year once again.

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