Friday, September 11, 2009

Extra Credit

Written by Andrew Clements
Illustrated by Mark Elliot
Most enjoyed by 4th through 8th Graders

Afghanistan is in the news a lot, and not always favorably. With war reports on the radio and TV almost daily, I suppose, from a young person's perspective, that the country and it's people don't make the best impression. But within Afghanistan are children, and many of those children have the same dreams and desires as our American children do. This can be forgotten among those daily war reports. 'Extra Credit' will change that and give young readers a new way to think of the people of Afghanistan.

Abby Carson is on the verge of being held back from sixth grade. Oh, she's plenty smart, it's just that homework isn't important to her. Spending time in the woods behind her farm house and climbing the rock wall in the gym mean much more that math problems or science worksheets. But ignoring all that work puts Abby behind, leading her teachers to suggest she repeat 6th grade. As an extra-credit assignment to help move her forward, Abby offers to become a pen-pal with a girl in Afghanistan and to share the letters with her classmates.
On the other side of the world, Abby's request is discussed among the elders of a small village outside Kabul. The best writer in the village is a young boy named Sadeed, but it is improper for a boy to write letters to a girl. So the elders decide the have Sadeed's younger sister Amira write the letters with Sadeed's help. But as the first letters are exchanged, both Sadeed's and Abby's eyes are opened to the world beyond their small towns. Soon, the project that seemed to only be more work, takes on special meaning and an importance of it's own.

At the heart of this book is the story of two young people getting to know each other over thousands of miles and discovering that they share many of the same dreams. Despite cultural differences, they are able to forge a friendship that lasts for a short while but stays with both forever.

There will be lots to talk about and think about when you finish 'Extra Credit' - Afghanistan, it's culture and history, as well as our role in shaping it today and in the future. I wouldn't be surprised if the book also results in an increase in readers wanting pen pals of their own. And wouldn't that be a great way to learn about another part of the world?

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