Rummanah Aasi
  Andrew Clements is a very popular children's author that was popular during my elementary student teaching. His latest book, Extra Credit, tries to bridge very different cultures of the U.S. and Afghanistan together. I was curious how Clements would deal with the preconceived notions of both nations in a children's book.

Description: Three junior high kids, Abby, Amira, and Sadeed, are pen pals and exchange letters back and forth between rural Illinois and the mountainous Afghanistan. As the kids write and receive letters they begin to bridge a gap across cultural and religious divides by finding their commonality.

Review: Extra Credit is a story of three pen pals who couldn't be more different from one another. Abby and Sadeed are continents apart, but they forge a friendship that leaves both of them changed. Abby is a reluctant student who is very close to failing sixth grade. Afraid of being held back, Abby promises herself and to her parents that she will become a better student and pick up her grades. Her teacher offers her an extra-credit project: writing letters to a student in another country. An enthusiastic rock climber despite living in the Illinois prairie, Abby chooses Afghanistan because of its mountains. At first Abby puts little effort into her first letter, not sure of what to write but as she continues to write more she begins to learn things about Afghanistan that she didn't know about.
  In Afghanistan, Sadeed is one of the best students in his village. Due to his excellent English skills, he is selected to participate in the pen pal program, but the teacher and town leaders don't approve of a boy writing to a girl due to societal mores. Sadeed creates a plan in which Sadeed dictates the letters but his little sister, Amira, signs them. Proud, studious Sadeed secretly writes to Abby on his own, explaining the ruse, and they correspond until circumstances in both countries make it impossible.
  I really liked the plot description of the book, especially the nice plot twist that brings all three pen pals together. I also liked how the letters opened up the character's minds and have then think outside the box. My main problem with the story is that the conflict occurs too late, at about three fourths of the story. Instead of diving into the murky water of reality between these two countries with high tension or digging deeper into the Afghani culture, Clements sidesteps the challenge and writes a very tidy, unrealistic ending that doesn't address the issues. Perhaps he thought the heavy issues were a bit too much for younger readers, but I think young readers are smart enough to detect a nicely wrapped up and rushed ending. Though I admire Clements on writing a timely story, I felt as if I was missing the second half of the book and was left disappointed. Some reviewers have overlooked the neat ending and still enjoyed the book, but I didn't like it as much and felt a little cheated.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson or Under the Persimmons Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples
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