Extra Credit Summary

Andrew Clements

Extra Credit

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Extra Credit Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Extra Credit by Andrew Clements.

Extra Credit (2009), a children’s book by Andrew Clements, has quickly become a staple in elementary schools. Although the protagonist of the story is a young girl in the sixth grade, the themes and lessons that the storyline offers are both useful and relatable for children of all ages.

On the brink of junior high, there’s one thing standing in Abby Carson’s way: herself. She doesn’t mind school and she loves seeing her friends every day. She especially loves riding the bus with her best friend, Mariah. Abby is competitive in gym class, where she is trying to conquer the rock wall. However, in the classroom, Abby can’t focus. She doesn’t want to do her homework and her grades are slipping.

When her guidance counselor Mrs. Carmody pulls her in to talk, Abby realizes she is in trouble. Mrs. Carmody informs her that unless she gets her grades back up and passes all of her tests, she will have to stay back and repeat the sixth grade.

Abby is embarrassed that this is even a possibility. She doesn’t want to miss out on junior high with her friends, so she agrees to make up all of her work and study for her upcoming tests. However, Mrs. Cooper and Mrs. Beckland have a different plan in mind. They want Abby to choose a country and write to an overseas pen pal, then present what she has learned to the class. Abby, who has always been a curious child, agrees. She asks if she can write to someone in the mountains and is paired with a school in a small village in Afghanistan.

When Abby’s letter arrives in Bahar-Lan, the village elders and teachers panic slightly. They don’t want just anyone writing back because if it’s written in poor English, they will be embarrassed. The elders and teachers hold a meeting to determine what to do. The teachers suggest that Sadeed Bayat write the letters as his English is the best in the school. Akbar Khan, the head elder, adamantly opposes this because it is inappropriate in their village for a girl and boy to write to one another.

Instead, he asks Amira, Sadeed’s younger sister, to be Abby’s pen pal. Amira is smart and is one of the few girls in Bahar-Lan permitted to go to school, which is traditionally reserved for males. Even though she is intelligent, Sadeed’s English is better than hers, so the village elder tells him to translate for Amira. Technically, Sadeed writes to Abby, and Amira signs each letter. Insulted and embarrassed by this, Sadeed doesn’t tell his best friend, Najeeb, about the letters because he’s afraid he will be teased for writing to a girl.

Sadeed comes to like Abby, though, and feels that he has made a friend. She writes about the farmland in Illinois and the rock wall in P.E.; he writes about the mountains and the goods his parents sell at the local bazaar. He tells her about their tiny classroom with grades one through six all in one room, separated by a divider, with boys on one side and girls on the other side. Sadeed starts slipping in his own opinions, stories, and details in addition to Amira’s translation.

When Amira reads Abby’s letters aloud for the class, Sadeed grows frustrated. Amira gets all the credit for having a pen pal in America even though Abby is Sadeed’s friend, and he is the one putting in all the work. In his pride, Sadeed sends Abby a letter admitting that he is the one that she has been writing to, not Amira.

One day, when a man in the village sees the American flag on Sadeed’s envelope, panic ensues. The police become involved and fighting breaks out in the mountains surrounding the village. The village elders fear for the safety of the children and families in Bahar-Lan because if Sadeed continues to write to America, the fighting (likely a result of terrorist activity) could get worse.

Abby works on her extra credit presentation. Wanting to add a more personal touch to her poster board, she covers it with the letters from Sadeed and adds a map of Afghanistan and a picture of their flag. Her classmates look disinterested and bored, but Abby continues with her presentation. When asked what she learned from her project, she answers, “All kids are the same.” This is the overarching theme throughout the book; despite being from polar opposite places, halfway around the world from one another, Sadeed and Abby are both just fun-loving, carefree kids. Abby climbs the artificial rock wall in her gym class just as Sadeed climbs Afghanistan’s mountains, but at the end of the day, the places that they come from do not solely define them; they are both just kids. Ironically, a parent calls the school to complain about the Afghanistan flag on Abby’s poster, stating that it might make the children “uncomfortable.” This scene is a commentary on how we tend to treat people differently as we grow older, despite having all been the same kids at heart.