janitor-s-boy

Janitor's Boy

By: Andrew Clements, Brian Selznick

LKR 424

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Paperback : 160 pages
Publisher : Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing (September 2001)
ISBN - 10 : 068983585X
ISBN - 13 : 9780689835858
Product Dimensions : 7.64 (w) x 5.06 (h) x 0.45 (d)
Subjects : Children - Fiction & Literature

About the author :

Andrew Clements is the author of the enormously popular FRINDLE. He has been nominated for a multitude of state awards and has won the Christopher Award and an Edgar Award. His popular works include EXTRA CREDIT, LOST AND FOUND, NO TALKING, ROOM ONE, LUNCH MONEY, A WEEK IN THE WOODS, THE JACKET, THE SCHOOL STORY, THE JANITOR'S BOY, THE LANDRY NEWS, THE REPORT CARD AND THE LAST HOLIDAY CONCERT. Mr. Clements taught in the public schools near Chicago for seven years before moving East to begin a career in publishing and writing. He lives with his wife in central Massachusetts and has four grown children. His website is andrewclements.com.

Brian Selznick is the author and illustrator of the bestselling The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was awarded the Caldecott Medal and was a National Book Award finalist. He is also the illustrator of many books for children, including Frindle and Lunch Money by Andrew Clements, as well as the Doll People trilogy by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, and The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley, which was a Caldecott Honor Book. Mr. Selznick divides his time between Brooklyn, New York, and San Diego, California.


IT WAS THE PERFECT CRIME

Unfortunately, it also led to the perfect punishment. When Jack Rankin gets busted for defacing a school desk with a huge wad of disgusting, watermelon bubble gum, the principal sentences him to three weeks of after-school gum cleanup for the chief custodian. The problem is, Jack's anger at the chief custodian was the reason for his gum project in the first place. The chief custodian happens to be Jack's dad.

But doing time in the school basement after hours reveals some pretty surprising things: about the school, about Jack's father, and about Jack himself.

Fifth grader Jack finds himself the target of ridicule at school when it becomes known that his father is one of the janitors, and he turns his anger onto his father.

Chapter 1: The Perfect Crime

Jack Rankin had a particularly sensitive nose. As he walked into school in the morning, sometimes he would pause in the entryway and pull in a snootload of air from the flow rushing out the door. Instantly he could tell what the cafeteria lunch would be, right down to whether the Jell-O was strawberry or orange. He could tell if the school secretary was wearing perfume, and whether there was an open box of doughnuts on the table in the teachers room on the second floor.

On this particular Monday morning Jack's nose was on high alert. He was working on a special project — a bubble gum project. Today's activity was the result of about a week's worth of research and planning.

Days ago, Jack had begun the project by secretly examining the bottoms of desks and tables all over the school, trying to decide exactly which kind of discarded gum was the most unpleasant. After he conducted his first few sniff tests, he didn't even have to look underneath a table or a chair to tell if there was gum. The scent of the stuff followed him from class to class. He had gum on the brain. He smelled gum everywhere — on the bus, in the halls, passing a locker, walking into a classroom.

Jack finally chose watermelon Bubblicious. It had to be the smelliest gum in the universe. Even weeks after being stuck under a chair or table, that sickly sweet smell and distinctive crimson color were unmistakable. And Bubblicious, any flavor of it, was definitely the stickiest gum available. By Jack's calculations, it was more than three times stickier than Bazooka.

The final stage of Jack's gum caper began in today's third-period gym class. Mr. Sargent had them outside in the cool October air, running wind sprints to prepare for a timed mile next week. By the end of the period Jack had four pieces of gum in his mouth, chewed to maximum stickiness. The smell of it almost overpowered him.

Carefully steering a wide path around Mr. Sargent, he went to his locker before the next class. He spat the chewed gum into a sandwich bag he had brought from home. The bag had two or three tablespoons of water in it to keep the gum from sticking to the plastic.

Jack sealed the bag, stuffed it into his pocket, and immediately jammed another two pieces of gum into his mouth and started to chew.

He processed those two pieces plus two more during science, managed to chew up another four pieces during lunch period, and even finished one piece during math — quite an accomplishment in Mrs. Lambert's classroom.

By the time he got to music, he had thirteen chewed pieces of gum in a plastic bag in the pocket of his jeans — all warm and soft and sticky.

Monday-afternoon music class was the ideal crime scene. The room had four levels, stair-stepping down toward the front. The seats were never assigned, and Mr. Pike always made kids fill the class from the front of the room backward. By walking in the door just as the echo of the bell was fading, Jack was guaranteed a seat in the back row. He sat directly behind Jed Ellis, also known as Giant Jed. With no effort at all he was completely hidden from Mr. Pike.

The only other person in the back row was Kerry Loomis, sitting six seats away. She was hiding too, hunched over a notebook, trying to finish some homework. Jack had half a crush on Kerry. On a normal day he would have tried to get her attention, make her laugh, show off a little. But today was anything but normal.

Mr. Pike was at the front of the room. Standing behind the upright piano, he pounded out a melody with one hand and flailed the air with his other one, trying to get fidgety fifth graders to sing their hearts out.

Jack Rankin was supposed to be singing along with the rest of the chorus. He was supposed to be learning a new song for the fall concert. The song was something about eagles soaring and being free and happy — not how Jack was feeling at this moment.

Bending down, Jack brought the baggie up to his mouth and stuffed in all thirteen pieces of gum for a last softening chew. The lump was bigger than a golf ball, and he nearly gagged as he worked it into final readiness, keeping one eye on the clock.

With one minute of class left, Mr. Pike was singing along now, his head bobbing like a madman, urging the kids to open their mouths wider. As the class hit a high note singing the word "sky," Jack leaned over and let the huge wad of gum drop from his mouth into his moistened hand. Then he began applying the gum to the underside of the folding desktop, just as he'd planned.

He stuck it first to the front outside edge and then pulled a heavy smear toward the opposite corner. Then he stretched the mass to the other corner and repeated the action, making a big, sticky X. Round and round Jack dragged the gum, working inward toward the center like a spider spinning a gooey, scented web.

As the bell rang Jack stood up and pulled the last gob of gum downward, pasting it onto the middle of the metal seat. A strand of sagging goo led upward, still attached to the underside of the desk.

It was the perfect crime.

The whole back of the music room reeked of artificial watermelon. And that gob on the seat? Sheer genius. Jack allowed himself a grim little smile as he shouldered his way into the hall.

There were two more class periods, so a kid would have to notice the mess today — this very afternoon. Mr. Pike would have to pull the desk aside so no one would get tangled in the gunk. Mr. Pike would need to get someone to clean it up before tomorrow.

So after someone had swept the rooms and emptied the trash cans and washed the chalkboards and dusted the stairs and mopped the halls and cleaned the entryway rugs, someone would also have to find a putty knife and a can of solvent and try to get a very sticky, very smelly desk ready for Tuesday morning. It would be a messy job, but someone would have to do it.

And Jack knew exactly who that someone would be. It would be the man almost everyone called John — John the janitor.

Of all the kids in the school, Jack was the only one who didn't call him John. Jack called him a different name.

Jack called him Dad.

Copyright © 2000 by Andrew Clements

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly

As he did in Frindle and The Landry News, Clements here puts an intelligent and credible fifth-grader at the center of a memorable novel. As the book opens, Jack, after much careful planning, is executing the "perfect crime": he assembles the biggest, stickiest wad of gum imaginable and affixes it to the desk in the back row of the music room. Why? The novel then flashes back to the moment when Jack's father, John, the head janitor, comes into his classroom to clean up vomit and calls Jack "son." At that point, "Jack felt like a giant letter had been branded on his forehead--L, for Loser." When Jack gets caught and the vice principal assigns him to three weeks' duty of scraping gum from school property after school, Jack decides, "There was only one person to blame for the whole mess.... Thanks again, Dad." Clements slowly builds an even, affecting narrative to reveal how Jack comes to better know and appreciate John, effectively drawing a parallel between this father-son relationship and John's relationship with his own father. The author adds a mystery to the mix when the boy discovers keys in the janitor's closet, which unlock literal doors to his understanding of his father. The author's uncanny ability to capture the fragile transformation from child to adolescent and its impact on family relationships informs every aspect of the novel. Ages 8-12. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|

Children's Literature - Children's Literature

Some kids' fathers are lawyers or doctors. Jack Rankin's dad is the janitor at his school. Embarrassed by his dad, Jack manages to keep his secret until the day in fifth grade when his dad acknowledges him and says hello. Angered and humiliated, Jack plots an act of revenge. He smears a desk with a huge, disgusting wad of Bubblicious gum, only to get caught in the act. The principal's punishment is for Jack to spend three weeks as the janitor's assistant after school. In quiet classrooms at the end of the day, scraping gum from library chairs, and deep in a tunnel that runs under the school, Jack has time to reflect. He discovers there is much about his father he does not know, nor has he taken the time to care. This fine coming-of-age story has a very likeable kid hero and a quiet, unassuming parent who have much to teach each other. Credible emotions and dialogue move the story to a warm and satisfying conclusion. 2000, Simon and Schuster, Ages 9 to 12, $15.00. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey

School Library Journal

Gr 3-5-Jack Rankin could not be more miserable. He is being forced to spend fifth grade in the old high school where his father is the janitor. Jack does a good job of ignoring his dad until the day his dad says hello to him. After that, Jack is teased about being the janitor's son and, in an act of revenge, he vandalizes one of the school desks. His punishment could not be worse. He must spend three weeks working for his father, scraping the gum off of the underside of tables and chairs throughout the building. During this time, Jack learns a lot about his father and himself, and discovers that he is proud to be the janitor's boy. Andrew Clements' story (S&S, 2000) is wonderfully read by B. D. Wong whose various inflections brings to life a cast of supporting characters, while accurately capturing Jack's anger and confusion and the weariness and love of his father. A welcome addition to school and public library audio collections.-Veronica Schwartz, Des Plaines Public Library, IL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Esmé Raji Codell

True strength of character is revealed in this coming of age story.
Bookbag Magazine

Kirkus Reviews

The author of Frindle and The Landry News returns with a touching novel about a boy who is ashamed of the fact that his father is the janitor at his school. Jack Rankin, 11, is a good kid who has always gotten along just fine with his parents. But when Jack starts fifth grade (temporarily located in the town high school in which Jack's father has been the janitor for many years), the trouble starts. Some of the meaner fifth graders give Jack a hard time about his father's job. "Must take a lot of talent to clean up a bunch of puke, huh? Sure wish I could learn how to do that," says one particularly obnoxious classmate. In a misguided attempt to get back at his father, Jack puts the biggest gob of bubble gum known to mankind underneath a desk in one of the classrooms. The culprit is quickly discovered and Jack is sentenced to after-school janitorial gum patrol for three weeks. During his new extracurricular activity, Jack explores the old school building, discovering an underground tunnel with a secret apartment at its end—and also discovering that there are parts of his father's life that he knows nothing about. But while the first half of this book is great, accurately capturing the voice of an 11-year-old boy, the second half works too hard to show us that Jack's father is a good man who is more than just a janitor. What would be wrong with being just a janitor, a wonderful father, and a good husband? An enjoyable read and a good jumping-off point for classroom discussions about class and economic status in America, but too heavy-handed to be satisfying. (Fiction. 8-11)

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