It isn’t that Abby Carson can’t do her schoolwork. She just doesn’t like doing it. And in February a warning letter arrives at her home. Abby will have to repeat sixth grade—unless she meets some specific conditions, including taking on an extra-credit project to find a pen pal in a distant country. Seems simple enough. But when Abby’s first letter arrives at a small school in Afghanistan, the village elders agree that any letters going back to America must be written well. In English. And the only qualified student is a boy, Sadeed Bayat. Except in this village, it is not proper for a boy to correspond with a girl. So Sadeed’s younger sister will write the letters. Except she knows hardly any English. So Sadeed must write the letters. For his sister to sign. But what about the villagers who believe that girls should not be anywhere near a school? And what about those who believe that any contact with Americans is . . . unhealthy? Not so simple. But as letters flow back and forth—between the prairies of Illinois and the mountains of central Asia, across cultural and religious divides, through the minefields of different lifestyles and traditions—a small group of children begin to speak and listen to one another. And in just a few short weeks, they make important discoveries about their communities, about their world, and most of all, about themselves.
Clements (Frindle) successfully bridges two cultures in this timely and insightful dual-perspective story. When Abby learns that her teachers want her to repeat sixth grade, the Illinois girl pledges to improve her grades and complete an extra-credit pen pal project. Since her favorite pastime is scaling a climbing wall, she's fascinated by Afghanistan's mountainous terrain and sends a letter to a one-room school there requesting a pen pal. So it will reflect well on his village, the teacher decides that his best student, Sadeed, should reply, but with a letter supposedly written by his sister, since it's deemed improper for a boy to correspond with a girl. In chapters devoted to Sadeed and in his missives to Abby (which he eventually admits he's composing), the sensitive boy shares illuminating information about Afghan beliefs and traditions, as well as his own aspirations. Abby responds with similar candor and the two gain much from their correspondence as will readers. Clements effectively broadens his canvas in this worthy addition to his oeuvre of school-themed novels. Ages 8 12.