Frindle Summary

Andrew Clements

Frindle

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Frindle Summary

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Frindle is a 1996 middle-grade chapter book by children’s novelist Andrew Clements and illustrated by Brian Selznick. Centering around a fifth-grade boy who invents a new word for what is normally called a pen, leading to a series of unexpected events and a growing battle with school authorities, Frindle explores themes of imagination, childhood creativity, the different way students and teachers view things, and questioning the norm. It also explores the power of language and the many ways it influences society, as well as how a small act can have massive unintended consequences. Some elements in the book have been compared to the process by which memes spread on the internet today, despite the book being written before the internet became widespread. Fusing elements of school dramedy with larger issues of society and the law, Frindle has become a modern-day classic in the twenty years since its release.

The story begins on the first day of fifth grade in 1987, as young Nicholas “Nick” Allen begins the new school year at Lincoln Elementary School in Westfield only to find out that his teacher is the strict, traditionalist Mrs. Granger. He has a reputation as a prankster in previous years. She’s best known for telling students to look up the answers to their questions themselves. The two quickly get into a battle of wills, with Mrs. Granger having little tolerance for his playful ways and Nick trying to liven up the class with his jokes and disruptive questions. One day, he tries to derail the class discussion by asking where the meaning of each word brought up in class comes from. Instead of answering him, she gives him a homework assignment to research and write a paper on the origin of words. While working on this assignment, Nick begins to question why words have to be called what they’re called. He decides to rename the word “pen”, and comes up with the alternative word “frindle”.

The next day in class, after giving his report, Nick begins using the word frindle to describe pens, and it soon catches on with his classmates. It doesn’t take long before it’s spread around the school, and students from different classes and grades are starting to use it. However, not everyone is a fan. Mrs. Granger didn’t like the word from the start, and as its use spreads, she finds it more and more disrespectful. A student of traditional English, she’s bothered by the perceived disrespect to the long-running word “pen”. Mrs. Granger tries to shut down the use of the word by meeting with Nick, discussing her objections, and having him sign a letter that he won’t use the word anymore. She says she’s writing a note for him to read that she’ll give him when the whole affair dies down. He agrees, but it’s taken on a life of its own by now.

To try to stop the word from spreading further, Mrs. Granger begins punishing students she hears saying “frindle”, giving them detention and forcing them to write lines. This leads to more unintentional consequences, as she winds up giving out so many detentions that parents and bus drivers complain about the impact on their schedules and work hours. Eventually, the problem gets to the point that Nick and his family get a visit at home from Mrs. Chatham, the principal of the elementary school. A very intimidating and stern woman, she attempts to portray the use of the word “frindle” as a rebellion and blames Nick for starting it. Although Nick’s parents try to convince him to drop the whole thing, Nick maintains that there was no disrespect intended and he doesn’t get what the problem is.

Soon, a reporter named Judy Morgan comes to the school and starts investigating the frindle phenomenon, interviewing both Mrs. Granger and Nick. The paper has a circulation of over 12,000, and soon “frindle” is on the tongue of every person in their town. However, the media, as media often does, makes the situation sound a lot more dramatic than it actually is, and the drama surrounding the word escalates. A corrupt businessman named Bud Lawrence sees an opportunity and decides to start merchandising the word “frindle” without cutting Nick in on the profits. Although Nick’s father is suspicious of the whole phenomenon, he doesn’t want his son to get robbed and he cuts a deal with Bud to create a trust fund for Nick out of a part of the profits. Nick is completely unaware that his creation of the word frindle will turn into a windfall for him someday.

The hype continues to build, as the word spreads nationwide, and Westfield finds fame as the home of the original frindle. However, the chaos surrounding frindle has scared Nick off his prankster ways, and he becomes more quiet and studious. He goes to talk to Mrs. Granger, and while she won’t give him the note until the chaos is over, she does encourage him to keep being himself and makes clear that while she didn’t always appreciate his disruptive nature, she does appreciate his creativity and hopes he will continue being himself. This gives Nick a new look on life as he heads into middle school.

The book ends ten years later. Nick is now 21, and has inherited a large sum of money from the trust fund his father set up. He also receives a package from Mrs. Granger. Inside it is a new dictionary, the first that has the word “frindle” officially recognized in it, as well as her note saying that she realizes she was wrong to try to stop him and now teaches all her students about how the word frindle was created. A few months later, she receives a letter from Nick informing her that he’s set up a scholarship in her name. They exchange pens – or frindles – and the student and teacher who began as adversaries end as friends.

Andrew Clements is a prolific children’s book author, writing sixty-seven books between 1985 and 2004, including series such as Pets to the Rescue and Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School. His books often deal with themes of precocious children interacting with the adult world and proving themselves clever enough to overcome great odds. Frindle remains his most critically acclaimed book, winning over 35 awards including the Phoenix Award for a book that increased in acclaim well after its release. In a 2007 poll, the National Education Association named Frindle one of the 10 best books for children.