cover image Third Grade Angels

Third Grade Angels

Jerry Spinelli, illus. by Jennifer A. Bell. Scholastic/Levine, $15.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-545-38772-9

In this peppy prequel to Fourth Grade Rats (1991), Spinelli builds on the childhood rhyme from that novel (“First grade babies!/ Second grade cats!/ Third grade angels!/ Fourth grade rats!”) as George (aka Suds) eagerly tries to earn the first cardboard halo that his teacher, Mrs. Simms, will award throughout the year for good behavior. Spinelli’s careful characterizations give the story its emotional honesty, and Suds’s obsession with snagging the halo—and his resulting angst—inspire some genuinely funny moments. In fact, he surprises even himself at the lengths he’ll go in pursuit of a halo, progressing from holding the door for girls to a far more angelic gesture: “I hold the door for boys.” Nicely developed adult figures, including Suds’s mother and Mrs. Simms, add to the story’s comedy and warmhearted quality. A climactic good deed by Suds takes place just before the announcement of the first halo award, the results of which few readers will see coming. An entertaining lead-in to this earnest hero’s fourth-grade year. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 7–10. (Sept.)