Extra Credit by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Mark Elliott.
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2009.
Middle grade realistic fiction, 183 pages.
AR Level: 5.3 (worth 5.0 points)
Abby is a smart sixth grader who could care less about homework but is obsessed with mountain climbing. Sadeed is the top of his school in Afghanistan, living right next to real life mountains. When Abby’s about to flunk 6th grade, she has an emergency project to complete – write to a pen pal in another country. What starts off as a quick project turns into a real connection.
The premise seemed to work okay, but as I often feel with two-person stories, one side was definitely lacking. The chapters about Abby had a lot more realism and detail. Sadeed’s chapters started off strong but while the premise was interesting, seemed to lack the specifics and connection that would have made me care about him. Even when his village was undergoing a lot of problems, it just felt dramatic and not real. The scenes with him and his sister were probably the best on his side.
Overall, Abby showed a lot of personal growth in this book, but I’m not sure what Sadeed’s role was or what his character development was supposed to be. She learned that mountains can be very dangerous to those who live near them, that religious persecution exists in America today, and that homework is important. Sadeed apparently learned to idolize American culture, climb mountains, and disregard the culture and opinions of most adults in his life. While I’m all for independent thinking and empowering women, Sadeed seemed to lose out in this book and gain very little beyond some knowledge about life in America.
The book has illustrations every few chapters. All of the illustrations are whole page and black and white pencil drawings. Sadeed looked a little Western to me, but overall the illustrations were fine. They weren’t a huge plus to the book but they didn’t detract in any way.
There were a few points of interest. For example, Sadeed or his teacher read Abby’s letters out loud to their entire school, while the letters from Afghanistan were relegated to a bulletin board and a presentation that nobody cared about. This did a good job showing some of the cultural differences and how many Americans don’t care about other countries. Another interesting plot point was how the Afghanistan flag was found offensive and removed from the American classroom without much discussion (Abby thinks about how she wants to question this, but doesn’t).
I also found it problematic that there seemed to be portrayed a mild romance between the main characters. It was understandable that others might think that, especially given Sadeed’s culture, but at points I wasn’t sure if Clements was indeed trying to portray a romance.
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this book. There are many better books for introducing your children or students to other cultures, so why settle for a mediocre book that’s not even an #ownvoice?