Diane Prather: Underachievement 101

Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver are the authors of "I Got a 'D' in Salami: Hank Zipzer, The Mostly True Confessions of the World's Best Underachiever."

It's this week's chapter book for young adults (classified as "juvenile").

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Hank Zipzer is a fourth-grader who lives in a large apartment building with his parents, 8-year-old sister Emily and their pets, Katherine, an iguana, and Cheerio, a dachshund.

Hank's mother runs The Crunchy Pickle, a deli that her father, Papa Pete, started. Mom invents special lunchmeats, like soy-salami-pimento loaf.

Luckily for Hank, two of his best friends also live in the building, and they hold club meetings in the basement.

Ashley Wong can pick up marbles with her toes and tie a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue. Frankie Townsend knows yoga and is good at magic. Robert Upchurch considers himself a best friend, too, since he also lives in the apartment building, but he's a third grader. Hank thinks Robert talks like an alien.

At school, it's nearly report card time, and the students in Mrs. Adolf's class are about to participate in a spelling contest. Each student has to correctly spell 15 words from a list to get in the final round. The last student standing gets an "A" on the report card.

So Hank studies until he knows the words backwards and forwards. He imagines winning the contest. Mrs. Adolf will smile. He'll receive a golden "A," like the Oscar. Even the class bully, Nick "The Tick" McKelty, will admire him.

But the next day, Hank can spell only one word correctly. It's as if the words have flown out of his head. Not only that, but Hank gets sent to Principal Love (who he's already spent a whole lot of time with) for not sitting down when he's told to.

When report card day rolls around, Hank doesn't get the same white report card envelope as the others. Instead, he receives a large brown manila envelope, and Mrs. Adolf says to have his parents call immediately.

When school is out, Hank goes to the bathroom and rips open the envelope. He has a "D" on every subject except music and PE. An enclosed letter includes comments like "doesn't follow directions" and "poor study habits."

Later, at the Crunchy Pickle, Mom dishes up cookies to Hank and his friends. She's also busy mixing up a soy-salami mix, a special order for Mr. Gristediano, so several of her meat grinders are going.

When Hank's mom finds out it's report card day, she calls him into the back room. Hank's friends follow. Hank says he lost his report card, and his friends try to help out by passing the envelope from one to the other. Finally, Robert drops it into one of the meat grinders. Now the "Ds" are being turned into salami.

There's a lot more to this salami caper, but there is a lesson, too, and some hope for Hank's study habits.

This book is published by Grosset & Dunlap (2003). It's $4.99 in paperback. ISBN 0-448-43163-7

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