The book on offer today isn’t SFF. It’s not even adult literature. It’s Frindle, by Andrew Clements.
I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid, but beyond that, I always loved books. They’ve been passed down in my family. My little brother (now nearly 15) has a bookcase in his room that is populated almost entirely by mine and my sister’s childhood books. In the basement, there are at least three boxes I know of with children’s books, up through YA. I have some of them still on my bookcases in my room (of which there are three). Most prominently are the children’s classics book series I got (about a dozen books) when I was real, real young. Things like The Secret Garden and Alice in Wonderland and Tom Sawyer. Anyway, my point is that my interest in books came when I was very young, and fairly recently, I’ve gone back through some of those books. Just for fun, to spark old memories, that sort of thing.
I came across Frindle. I’m not sure whether it was my sister’s book or mine (we’re only 2 years apart, so it’s possible either way).
This is the sort of book that I would recommend to every child. To every young adult. And to every adult who wanted to remember what it’s like to be a kid again.
The premise is pretty basic. Nick Allen enters the fifth grade, where he meets a seemingly dictatorial teacher who has a love for the dictionary and the written word. One day, he asks why a word becomes a word, and Mrs. Granger tells him that words are what they are because people decide that’s what they mean, he takes the idea and runs with it. With a small group of friends, he decides to rename the word ‘pen’ as ‘frindle’. Why? Because if that’s what they choose to call it, then why isn’t it a word?
The one thing that struck me about this book is the love of words in it. Mrs. Granger makes a worthy adversary in her defense of pen and it’s noble Latin heritage; Nick makes an equally passionate case for “well, someone had to make up the Latin word, once upon a time, didn’t they?”.
This is a book about one boy, with a mind of his own and a desire to test the boundaries of his world. It’s simple enough for a child to understand (it was published in 1996, when I was 7/8); it’s moving enough for a young adult of 22 to still get tears in her eyes when she gets to the end. If any writer, any reader, ever has the feeling that they’re falling out of love with the written word – this is the book to read. The book that will reanimate your passion for writing and reading and maybe even make you remember what it was like to be a kid again, when the whole world was open and nothing was impossible.
I will be keeping this book. Should I ever have children, they will read this book. Failing that, I’ll make sure my nieces/nephews get a copy. I don’t care that it’s nearly 15 years old; there is a timeless quality to this book that will make it just as valuable a read in 1996 as in 2026.
Even if you don’t have kids, or don’t read kid lit, this one’s worth the trouble.