The Fourth Grade Wizards

By Barthe DeClements; Puffin Books, 1988; pp 122

Plot: Marianne is having trouble focusing in her fourth grade class. She’d rather lay her head down on her desk and remember life as it was before her mother was killed in a plane crash. Her only friend is the mischievous Jack, the class prankster, whose antics and spitball projector keep him from earning the coveted “Master Wizards,”an  honor bestowed on the well-rounded students each semester. Marianne’s other friend is Brittany, who is always waiting at the door of her apartment each day after school. Brittany’s mom has eyes on Marianne’s father, while Brittany cannot keep her eyes and hands off of Marianne’s mother’s jewelry. When Marianne’s father decides to move out their apartment into a house a mile away, Jack tells Marianne what she needs is a wolf-hybrid puppy. Surprisingly, her father consents. Too bad Brittany and her mother persist in weaseling themselves into Marianne’s father’s life. Too bad the wolf-hybrid puppy runs away. Is that Marianne’s mother’s ring on Brittany’s finger? Can Marianne ever earn the distinction of “Master Wizard”?

Genre: Fiction

Reading Level: Grades 4 to 6
Review: This book is simultaneously LOL funny and poignant. The author captures all the spit balls, social awkwardness, class consciousness, and snootiness of fourth grade. The main character is a young girl whose mother was killed in a plane crash before the start of fourth grade. The book will appeal to that deepest fear of all children and greatest longing, for a family and puppy (not necessarily in that order). Some of the material is dated—classified newspaper ads and latchkey kids. The author captures the insecurity of a girl whose world has been upended and how she copes with school, the alpha girl in her class, and unwanted friendships. The character of Jack, a class clown and natural leader who is fond of Marianne and looks out for her, is adorable. It is Jack who suggests that Marianne get a wolf-hybrid puppy, an event that is a turning point in her life. Inspired by author DeClements’ stint as a school psychologist, this story ends where it began, with DeClements asking Marianne what her soon-to-be step mother calls her.

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