cover image Fourth Grade Weirdo

Fourth Grade Weirdo

Martha Freeman. Holiday House, $15.95 (148pp) ISBN 978-0-8234-1460-4

This somewhat canned classroom comedy mines the timeworn topic of self-acceptance. More sympathetic than the protagonist of Freeman's recent The Polyester Grandpa, fourth-grader Dexter Plum fears he's an oddball because he carries a ""dweebacious"" briefcase, eats only black jelly beans and creates a square self-portrait that inspires his classmates to dub him ""blockhead."" He intends to eat his favorite after-school snack every day through college, law school and beyond: ""I like to plan things like that out. Life is crazy enough. Who wants surprises?"" Unfortunately, the fresher moments go unexplored and even seem out of place, such as Dexter's anger at his mom's negligence due to her school board campaign, and his ultra-disciplined father's admission that he was once so physically weak that his peers considered him weird, too. Instead, the action centers on Dexter's ambivalence toward his spontaneous, disorganized teacher, Mr. Ditzwinkle (whose refrain is ""Let's get down with some education""), as well as the mildly suspenseful mystery of disappearing Parents Club dues and sweets from school classrooms and offices. A subplot concerning the rivalry between Dexter and classmate Eric--""problem child of the universe""--whose moms are competing for the school board position, provides some tension, but most of the entertainment stems from Dexter's ability to laugh at himself. Ages 8-12. (Dec.)