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The Janitor's Boy

Last updated Thursday, July 16, 2009

Author: Andrew Clements
Date of Publication: 2001
ISBN: 0689818181
Grade Level: 5th    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Jun. 2009

Synopsis: Fifth-grader Jack Rankin's father is the janitor of the junior-high school. That wouldn't be so bad if nobody knew about it. But on October 5, disaster strikes when Lenny Trumbull throws up his cafeteria ravioli: Jack's dad appears on the scene with a mop and says, "Hi, son." Jack loves his father and is proud of him, but he knows a giant letter L for loser has just been branded on his forehead. To make matters worse, Jack, furious when the inevitable stream of ridicule begins, blindly crashes into his bucket-bearing dad in the hallway, unleashing laughter, clapping, and plenty of water all around. Jack's anger is now a firestorm, and as author Andrew Clements so vividly phrases it: "The sizzling chunks of Jack's burning rage stuck to his father--like gobs of well-chewed watermelon bubble gum." Jack's fury manifests itself into the perfect crime--a carefully premeditated, 13-piece Bubblicious attack on an innocent music-room chair that results in a sticky, gooey, smelly web that only a janitor would have the skills to remove. The "sweet smell of victory" diffuses quickly, however, when Jack is condemned to after-school gum-removal duty for the next three weeks. Stickier still is how this is going to play out at home with his mom and dad. The after-school hours Jack spends scraping gum off furniture prove to be eye-opening. He develops a scholarly interest in gum excavation, and has plenty of time to make a list of ways he is not like his dad the janitor. But one day--first in a forgotten underground tunnel and then on a long truck-ride home--he discovers that there is more to his good-hearted, strong, unassuming father than he had ever even thought to imagine. Clements, a former public-school teacher and author of the bestselling Frindle and The Landry News, has a knack for getting to the heart of things while keeping the story buoyant. Readers of all ages will think twice about what kind of people (outside of their parental or occupational roles) their own parents might be.

Note to readers:
•  Read the dust cover notes in order to get a good summary of the book. It is likely to be too long to get though in one sitting so we recommend reading Chapters 1-5, then 8-14 (or as far as you can get).

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Read the title and try to get the kids to predict the plot.
•  Do their parents sometime embarrass them in front of their friends?
•  Have they ever tried to talk to their parents about that?

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Do you think Jack’s idea to get back at his dad is a good idea?
•  What do you think of his punishment?
•  What do you think of how his parents reacted?
•  How would your parents react if you did something like that?
•  Do you think Jack and his dad can be friends again?
•  What would you have done if you were Jack?

Craft ideas:
•  Bring in any old magazines you may want to get rid of and have the kids make a collage contrasting what they’re ideal parent is, and how they perceive their parents.
•  Draw a picture of one of your parents at work.
•  Make a father's day card.

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!