49 pages 1 hour read

Lincoln Peirce

Big Nate: In a Class by Himself

Fiction | Graphic Novel/Book | Middle Grade | Published in 2010

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Summary and Study Guide


Big Nate: In a Class by Himself is Lincoln Pierce’s first of eight novels featuring the famous cartoon character Big Nate. The novel was published in 2010 and is based on the “Big Nate” comics syndicated since 1991. The Big Nate series has attained huge popularity, gracing the New York Times bestseller list and spawning a television series and musical. Big Nate: In a Class by Himself follows a day in the life of Nate Wright as he tries to achieve his destiny (prophesized by a fortune cookie), but nothing goes to plan. The story is written in first person from Nate’s perspective. An optimistic and overly exuberant sixth grader, Nate relates his tale with a humorous combination of prose, comics, and drawings. The novel explores the themes of friendship, family, justice, education, childhood, hubris, and power.

The version used for this guide is the electronic version published by Harper Collins in 2010.

Plot Summary

Nate Wright’s morning starts like a train wreck. He wakes from a nightmare where his least favorite teacher calls on him, worries that he might have forgotten about a social studies test, and stresses that failing another social studies test might lead to summer school. Nate does not have time to eat his unappealing breakfast of lumpy oatmeal as he rushes out the door to avoid his father’s probing questions. In his hurry, Nate forgets his lunch.

On his way to school, Nate comes up with multiple ways to get out of the social studies test, finally deciding to forge a note from his father. Francis meets up with him and asks what Nate is doing, and Nate reluctantly explains. Francis tells him there is no social studies test. They throw books at each other and continue to school, meeting with their friend Teddy. When they finally reach school, Nate realizes he forgot his lunch in his morning panic. Teddy offers Nate some leftover Chinese food and throws him a fortune cookie. Nate opens the cookie to find his fortune: “Today, you will surpass all others” (69).

Nate fixates on this fortune, sure that this means his day will get better. Nate tells his friends, and together they wonder if Nate can surpass all others and how he might manage to do so. In social studies, Nate gets away with eating in class only to get caught with his list of 20 different insulting nicknames for his teacher, Mrs. Godfrey. Mrs. Godfrey gives him detention. Nate remains optimistic and focuses on bringing about his fortune. Nate, Francis, and Teddy decide that his fortune must be fulfilled at school, giving Nate six hours to fulfill the prophecy.

Nate writes a love poem in English class to his unrequited crush, Jenny. He is confident that his poem will be so astounding that Jenny will immediately fall in love with Nate and break up with her boyfriend, thus allowing Nate to attain his fortune. Another classmate, Gina, reads over Nate’s shoulder and yells to Jenny that Nate is writing her a love poem. Nate is wholly mortified and rips it up. Ms. Clarke, the English teacher, tries to help by telling Nate that poetry comes from the heart. Gina laughs, and Nate snaps that Gina should keep her big mouth shut, earning Nate another detention.

On their way to art, Nate’s friends make fun of him for getting another detention. Nate shrugs it off and looks at the display case, thinking his sculpture will be there. Though Nate’s sculpture is nowhere to be found, Nate does find a drawing by Artur—the object of all of Nate’s jealousy. Nate tries to ask the art teacher, Mr. Rosa, to put one of his drawings in the display case. However, Mr. Rosa rejects him before Nate can fully form the question. Nate decides to take matters into his own hands. He has Francis create a distraction while Nate sneaks out to the display case. Things go as planned until Nate tries to open the display case and finds it stuck. He yanks to open it, breaking off the knob and crashing into the wall. The loud crash alerts Mr. Rosa, who gives Nate his third detention.

Nate heads to lunch with his friends, who are now in hysterics over Nate’s luck. They try to find a table and sit with a kid reading a book on world records. Nate looks through the book to find a way to “surpass all others” and decides on speed eating. Francis and Teddy decide to “help” Nate by gathering up all the other students’ uneaten green beans so he can beat the speed-eating record. Nate tries to get out of it, but his friends pressure him until Nate gives in. After a minute, Nate starts to feel sick, and Principal Nichols interrupts by yelling Nate’s name. Nate tries to explain his actions, but the beans clog his mouth. He spits them out, to everyone’s horror. Principal Nichols tells Nate off and insists that Nate clean the mess of green beans. As Principal Nichols walks away, he slips in some bean juice and lands flat on his back. He tells Nate to go to his office, where the principal lectures Nate before giving him another detention and making him late for gym class.

Unfortunately, Nate has a substitute for gym class, Coach John. Coach John is the type of teacher that yells at everyone, so of course, he yells at Nate for his lateness. Nate changes quickly but notices that he has beans on his face. Nate cleans his face, only to get water down the front of his shorts. Terrified of being mocked, Nate scrounges for spare shorts and finally finds a pair, though they are too large. Nate solves this by stuffing towels down the shorts, making him look extremely round. When he finally comes out of the locker room, everyone dissolves into laughter except Coach John, who is furious. Nate realizes that he is wearing Coach John’s shorts and that it looks like Nate is trying to make fun of him. Nate tries to explain but with no luck. Coach John forces Nate to run sprints, and Nate gets another detention.

At this point, even the eternally optimistic Nate is getting frustrated. Teddy tells Nate that he needs to stop forcing his fortune. If his fortune is meant to happen, it will without Nate putting in extra effort. Nate thinks over this as he goes to math class, where he can tell immediately that more trouble is brewing. The teacher, Mr. Staples, gives everyone a pop quiz. Nate cruises through the test with 10 minutes to spare. When he notices everyone else is still working, Nate thinks he has finally surpassed all others. However, he did not notice a back to the test paper. As everyone else is handing in their work, Nate quickly tries to fill in the back. Mr. Staples grabs his paper, but Nate, panicking, refuses to let it go. The paper rips, and Nate gets another detention.

Nate grumbles about his fortune on the way to science as his friends continue to laugh at him. Nate realizes that their science teacher, Mr. Galvin, has never smiled or laughed in school. Nate decides that he can surpass all others by being the first person to make Mr. Galvin laugh. Nate tries everything he can think of to make Mr. Galvin laugh. Nate puts pencils up his nose, tells jokes, and even gives Mr. Galvin a science-related comic. Nothing works; instead, Nate gets his pen confiscated. Desperate, Nate tries tickling him with a feather duster. Mr. Galvin yells at Nate to be quiet and stay in his seat. Nate gives up but then notices that the pen Mr. Galvin confiscated is leaking all over the science teacher’s shirt. Nate laughs, Mr. Galvin calls him out, and Nate laughs harder. This earns him another detention.

A very depressed Nate walks to the detention room. Though Nate is upset about his detentions, he is more upset that he did not even “get [his] money’s worth” out of them (205). Mrs. Czerwicki, the detention monitor, asks Nate for his detention slips and is shocked to find seven. She tells Nate that he has achieved a new record. No one has ever received seven detention slips in one day. Instantly cheered, Nate asks if that means he has surpassed all others. Mrs. Czerwicki grudgingly concedes. Nate does a happy dance and goes to his seat. Under a drawing he previously made, he writes “by Nate Wright School Record Holder” and decides that he is pretty lucky (213).

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