Can average be amazing? The bestselling author of Frindle shows that with a little kindness, it can.
Jordan Johnston is average. Not short, not tall. Not plump, not slim. Not gifted, not flunking out. Even her shoe size is average. She’s ordinary for her school, for her town, for even the whole wide world, it seems.
Then Marlea Harkins, one of the most popular girls in school—and most definitely the meanest—does something unthinkable, and suddenly nice, average Jordan isn’t thinking average thoughts anymore. She wants to get Marlea back! But what’s the best way to beat a bully? Could it be with kindness?
Called “a genius of gentle, high concept tales set in suburban middle school” by The New York Times, bestselling author Andrew Clements presents a compelling story of the greatest achievement possible—self-acceptance.
Reading Group Guide
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Jordan Johnston wishes she were extraordinarily popular, pretty, athletic, musical, intelligent . . . something! She dreams about escaping her average existence but what she can’t figure out is exactly how. Then nature intervenes and Jordan discovers something way above average about herself that may have been there all along.
1. From the start of the novel, it is clear that Jordan is frustrated by her lack of special talents. Reread the first ten pages of the novel and then list at least four things at which Jordan appears to have skill. Can you think of a word or phrase to describe the types of aptitudes Jordan possesses? What kind of “above average” abilities does she want?
2. What does Marlea Harkins do that upsets Jordan? What options does Jordan consider to retaliate against Marlea? Do you agree with her thought process? What advice would you give to Jordan at the end of Chapter Four?
3. At the end of Chapter Six, Jordan observes that: “Numbers were so clean and simple. No words, no feelings, no mind tricks. Numbers were like a hiding place, a quiet corner of the world.” Do you feel this way about numbers or can you understand what Jordan means? Is there another school subject or activity that brings you comfort? Explain your answer.
4. Who is “Joe the Weather Guy”? What gives Joe a bit of extra insight into the weather in central Illinois?
5. How does Jordan feel when she overhears her parents discussing her abilities? Have you ever had the experience of hearing adults discuss your academic, athletic, or artistic skills, or your future? How did you react to this experience?
6. Who are Jordan’s good friends? How does she relate to these friends? Who are the members of the Cuteness Club, why are they called that, and how do they intersect with Jordan’s group of friends? Do you think Jordan should have discussed the Marlea situation with one of her friends? Why or why not?
7. What ingenious idea does Jordan finally have for dealing with Marlea? What is your opinion of this idea? Do you think you could pull it off? What possible reactions could you envision for treating difficult people in your school or community with “extra niceness”?
8. What is Jordan’s genius babysitting trick? How does this trick show Jordan’s insights into kids and people in general? How does it foreshadow her actions later in the story?
9. What contest does Jordan win in Mr. Sanderling’s class? How does Jordan feel about the win? Is it enough to satisfy her need to be “not average”?
10. What does Joe feel in his bones in Chapter Fifteen? Can you find evidence in the chapter that others also have a sense of foreboding about the weather? What decision does Joe make?
11. Why is Mr. Graisha’s decision to hold the after-school rehearsal in the auditorium building a bad one? What happens shortly after the rehearsal begins? What happens to the teacher? How do the other kids react?
12. How does Jordan’s earlier decision to set simple goals affect her own reaction to the weather situation? What does she do?
13. Does Jordan’s dream of being applauded by her community come true in the way she imagined? What happens at sixth-grade graduation?
14. Is Jordan really average at all? Is anyone?
Activities & Research
1. Use an online dictionary to find the multi-part definition of the word “average”. Write at least six sentences using the term in different ways and/or different parts of speech. Write a paragraph describing a fictional average student, athlete, singer, or other type of person.
2. Create an informative poster describing the study of meteorology, including how one becomes a meteorologist and a list of at least four jobs meteorologists can do other than being a television or radio weather person. With friends or classmates discuss whether you would consider a career in meteorology.
3. In the character of Marlea, write a journal entry from her point of view describing what happened the morning she read Jordan’s list in the bathroom. Or, with friends or classmates, role-play the bathroom scene with Jordan, Marlea, and the girls to whom she reads the list (improvising their reactions), and a scene in which Marlea tells Kylie what she did and Kylie reacts (this scene is not in the actual novel).
4. Jordan feels that Marlea’s actions toward her are bullying. Do you agree or disagree? Write a paragraph defining the term “bullying” and, if necessary, discussing how you might categorize other types of unacceptable school behavior.
5. Describe the plans in place to help kids handle bullying situations at Jordan’s school. Does your school have an anti-bullying policy? If it does, compare your plan to that of Jordan’s school. If not, brainstorm a plan to propose to your teacher and principal.
6. With friends or classmates, make a wall-sized poster or mural depicting things at which you excel, such as soccer, spelling, pet-sitting, etc. Write a few words describing each ability in colorful lettering, and illustrate them with photographs of you and your friends in action.
7. Survey friends, family, or classmates about whether they use lists for decision making, to remember things, for shopping, for schoolwork, or for other reasons. Have they ever had difficulty with a list getting into the wrong hands? What is the most important list they have ever made? Create a graph or chart summarizing your survey results.
8. Jordan decides to deal with the Marlea situation using kindness. Spend a few hours or even an entire school day using only kind words in your interactions with friends, classmates, and teachers. Afterward write a journal entry describing the experience, noting whether this behavior affected your mood, concentration, or schoolwork. If desired, share your observations with friends or classmates.
9. The weather plays a critical role in the novel. Write two to three paragraphs describing the climate of your hometown. Be sure to include some notes on the most dangerous types of weather you experience in your region. For one week, start each day by stepping outside your front door and then writing down your best guess at the kind of weather the day will bring. Then, take note of the daily weather report given on your local television or radio station or online. At the end of each day, compare the professional forecast and your guess to the actual weather of the day.
10. Have you ever experienced a hurricane, tornado, blizzard, severe heat wave, or other dangerous weather situation? Write a short story describing this experience.
11. Find out whether your family, school, and community have plans to deal with dangerous weather situations. Visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration online at http://www.legislative.noaa.gov/NIYS/ to learn more about making a weather emergency plan for your area. Encourage friends and classmates to educate themselves about weather preparedness.
12. You are the person assigned to create Jordan’s special commendation. Use a computer graphic design program and be sure to include the wording noted in the final chapter of the novel.
Guide written by Stasia Kehoe
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Andrew Clements (1949–2019) was the author of the enormously popular Frindle. More than 10 million copies of his books have been sold, and he was nominated for a multitude of state awards, including a Christopher Award and an Edgar Award. His popular works include About Average, Troublemaker, Extra Credit, Lost and Found, No Talking, Room One, Lunch Money, and more. He was also the author of the Benjamin Pratt & the Keepers of the School series. Find out more at AndrewClements.com.
Mark Elliott has a BFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts. He has illustrated a number of book covers, and his work has been exhibited at the Society of Illustrators and the Art Directors Guild. Mark lives on a sheep farm in the Hudson Valley region of New York.
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (July 24, 2012)
Length: 128 pages
Grades: 3 - 7
Ages: 8 - 12
Lexile ® 860L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
"What is extraordinary is how Clements can continue to produce realistic examples of kid power year after year. More than a feel-good story with a message, this is another good read."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Clements adds to his canon of school stories with this thoughtful novel about an earnest and introspective girl who longs to wrap up her sixth-grade year 'in a blaze of glory, a flash of triumph, a burst of superstardom.'"