One Third Nerd

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A funny, fast-paced, and heartfelt story from the Newbery Honor-winning author of the Al Capone series.

Fifth grade is not for amateurs, according to Liam. Luckily, he knows that being more than one-third nerd is not cool. Liam lives in the Bay area near San Francisco with his mom and two younger sisters. Dakota is fascinated by science and has a big personality but struggles to make friends; Izzy, a child with Down syndrome, makes friends easily and notices things that go past everyone else. Dad lives across town, but he's over a lot. And then there's Cupcake, their lovable German shepherd, who guards their basement apartment.

Recently, Cupcake has a problem--she's peeing in the house. The kids need to make enough money to take her to the vet before their landlord upstairs finds out. And Mom and Dad have said if Cupcake doesn't stop, they will find her a new home. But the kids will never let Cupcake go. Can they save her?--from the publisher

224 pages         978-1524718886           Ages 8-12

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Liam is in fifth grade and enjoys playing tennis with his friend Dodge. He doesn't enjoy his younger sister Dakota's antics quite so much-- she loves science, and often conducts ill-advised experiments, such as blowing up watermelons and collecting their dog Cupcake's urine to see why she's peeing on the carpets. Too bad she feels compelled to keep it in the refrigerator in a drinking glass!

Because their landlord, Mr. Torpse, lives below them, they have to try to be quiet, not let Cupcake bark, and generally not make the elderly, fractious man irritated. Liam's parents are divorced, and they are both struggling with their jobs. His dad brings dinner over once in a while, but doesn't stay to eat, and his mom after has to work long hours, so occasionally leaves Liam and Dakota in the apartment by themselves, or with Dodge's grandfather, Crash. Izzy has Down Syndrome, so she needs to go to speech therapy and has frequent doctor's appointments.

Cupcake's overactive bladder is such a concern that Mr. Torpse is threatening to evict the family unless the issue can be resolved. There isn't money for an expensive doctor's visit, so the children have several money making schemes, from collecting newspapers to winning the science fair. Eventually, it is Izzy who has the good idea to seek a second opinion about Cupcake's problem, and not a moment too soon, since Mr. Torpse is all set to evict the family.

Strengths: This is a great book for showing realistic elementary school concerns. Dealing with parents living in different locations, having altercations with siblings, and agonizing over pets are all things far more likely to happen to most children than having a parent die. Money issues affect children deeply, and it's hard for younger ones to realize that these happen to other people, too. Liam shows typical tween embarrassment, but also takes steps to make his situation better. I especially like his interactions with another "nerd" friend at school; he thinks the other boy is cool and doesn't want him to see where he lives, but when the friend finds out, he is very understanding. 

Weaknesses: The illustrations are great, but it seems completely unrealistic for both of the girls to be wearing skirts. Jeans, leggings, perhaps, but I hardly ever see a student in a skirt!

What I really think: This was a lot of fun, but I am debating whether it is too young for my students. I thought Clement's The Losers Club would be great for my 6th graders, but it has languished on the shelves, and this has a similar vibe. 

Recommended by: Karen Yingling, Library Media Specialist, Ohio USA

See more of her recommendations: msyinglingreads.blogspot.com

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