As a long-time logophile, I’ve more than once seized on an obscure word and proceeded to use it as much as possible in casual conversation (“Sorry to eat and absquatulate!”), but the hero of Frindle does me one better: He makes up a word that, meme-like, becomes a part of the English language.
It all starts with Mrs. Granger, Nick’s infamously tough fifth grade English teacher. Nick is a bright kid, smart enough to have the art of distracting his teachers down to a science, and he quickly cottons to Mrs. Granger’s weakness: the dictionary. “Where do words come from?” he asks, and Mrs. Granger’s answer gives him a brilliant idea: He’ll make up a word himself. Soon, all of his classmates are calling their pens “frindles,” following Nick’s lead, and Mrs. Granger is apparently horrified by their off-dictionary vocabulary. Before he knows it, the word “frindle” has swept the school, the city, and finally the nation, and when the story ends ten years later, “frindle” has worked its way into the dictionary, too—much, Nick is surprised to discover, to his old teacher’s delight.
What makes it a great readaloud: Besides being a fun and funny elementary book, Frindle raises great questions about how language develops and who decides what a word means. Sure, the book sticks with fairly straightforward answers, but it points the way to deeper discussions about how words have entered the lexicon (such as “truther” and “humblebrag,” which debuted in Merriam-Webster in 2017) or changed their meaning over time (see “nice” or “awful”). Frindle also encourages young readers to get excited about the possibilities of language for themselves, whether they want to make up new words like Nick or just use words in new ways.
But be aware: Clements’ books are delightful, but a lot of them do follow a similar pattern (kid has a great idea, great idea kids gets in trouble, kid is eventually vindicated, harmony is restored) —Frindle is no exception.
Quotable: “Who says dog means dog?”