Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You

By Barthe DeClements. Published 1985.

Right, so there’s a chapter titled “The Retard Room.” So this should be good.

It’s Helen’s first day of sixth grade, and she is dreading it. Before she leaves for school, she mysteriously takes a spool of thread with her. When she and her friend Louise get to school, they find out they’re in different classrooms. Louise is in the cool Mr. Marshall’s room, along with Diane, Jenny, and Elsie (with the note that Elsie used to be fat, of course), while Helen is in Mrs. Lobb’s class.

The morning goes alright, Helen kicks ass in math. But after recess comes reading, and Helen starts to freak out. While Mrs. Lobb is reading Old Yeller to them, Helen takes her thread and winds it around the leg of her desk and the desk next to her. Then she makes a sign that says “betour.” When it’s time for them to read on their own, Helen only makes it through three pages while everyone else works on the questions.

During art, Mrs. Lobb walks around, and gets caught up in Helen’s trap, and almost falls. Helen gets in trouble, and is sent out to the hall to write an apology note. Helen isn’t upset by this. She’s proud of being known as “Bad Helen.” Her note looks like this: “I didnt mene to mak you fall.” Well, this is just sad now.

At home, aside from dinner, Helen works all afternoon and evening with her mother just to complete her reading and follow-up questions.

During P.E., Mrs. Lobb’s class plays baseball, which Helen apparently kicks ass at. But Mrs. Lobb makes them quit when a teammate calls Helen “Hel.” That is not appropriate to call a young lady. Back in class, they’re reading a play. Fortunately, Helen’s part as the clerk is only seven lines, and she has that night to go over them.

Helen’s feeling totally prepared the next morning. But…there’s a new boy in their class, and the girl who was playing the daughter is absent. So Mrs. Lobb assigns the daughter to Helen and the clerk to the new kid. Motherfucker. It goes really bad, and Helen messes up words on every line.

When Helen gets home that afternoon, she hears her mother on the phone. She’s saying she knows Helen has reading problems, but they’re working with her at home. And no, they will not give their permission for Helen to get any sort of special education. WHAT THE FUCK? Your daughter has a problem, why not get her the help she needs? You are on my list, Mrs. Nichols!

The next day, Helen takes a sample tube of toothpaste to school. When she can get back to the classroom alone, she squeezes it all out on Mrs. Lobb’s chair. So after Mrs. Lobb stands up, she’s got a nice white line on her black pants. She tries to get it off with Kleenex, but has to go to the bathroom to wash it off. The kids start acting up while she’s gone, and the principal comes in. He totally chews out Mrs. Lobb when she returns.

Helen gets increasingly frustrated with school. She continues doing things to further her reputation as “Bad Helen.” She sets a brass alarm clock to 1:30, and places it in a trashcan. When it goes off, Mrs. Lobb assumes it’s a fire drill. She ends up all confused. Helen is able to take the clock back before she gets in trouble.

She does get caught for her next prank. She sets off a firecracker outside, and it travels toward the faculty room door just as Mrs. Lobb and another teacher are coming out. Helen is caught with the matches still in her hand.

After Christmas break, Helen is switched to Mr. Marshall’s class, and it’s as cool as she’s heard.  Their desks aren’t in rows, they can put them wherever they want. And if they do something wrong, they get to decide their own punishment. Kick-ass.

But even though she’s decidedly happier there, Helen’s grades still aren’t improving. It’s obvious she has a serious reading problem. One day Mr. Marshall speaks to her privately about spending some time for reading in the special education room. She tells him about her mother’s objections, and he says he’ll speak to her father. Sneaky, Mr. Marshall. He talks her into just checking the room out, and goes with her. She sees it’s not scary at all, and there are kids in there with problems similar to hers.

Helen’s mother conveniently goes out of town, and her father speaks to Helen about using the special education room. He says he’ll take care of things with her mother.

Helen likes the individual attention she receives in the special ed. room. She’s not reading well right away or anything, and it’s not easy, but she does work hard.
Some bitchy girls make fun of her, of course, but most of the kids defend her and distract the bitches.

The sixth grade goes on a camping trip, and Helen just can’t quite put Bad Helen away. She brings her firecrackers, and one night she and Diane sneak out, intending to throw a lit one into the boys’ cabin. But they get caught by Mr. Marshall. He says he’ll talk to them the next morning. Oh shit.

Mr. Marshall asks Helen what she thinks will happen, and she figures she’ll have to go home. But she’s really upset he won’t like her and won’t want her in his room anymore. He’s says that’s not true at all, and he’d like her to play for him on a baseball team he’s forming that summer. He ends up giving her a pretty light punishment.

Helen is good for the rest of the trip, as well as the rest of the year. She’s proud of herself for not setting off her last firecracker on the last day of school. She thinks she’ll save it for junior high.

o   There’s not much about our old pal Elsie, but we do get this gem: She wants to weigh one hundred and five pounds by seventh grade. Hell of a healthy goal, Elsie. /sarcasm

o   When she hears Helen got a discipline slip, Louise’s mom says. “Helen, a pretty girl like you!” What? What the fuck does that have to do with anything?


  1. pretty girls don't get discipline slips! and they don't go to the resource room!

  2. Did someone in this book name a kitten DD, after their D grades, or am I thinking of a different book?

    1. Nope, not this one. But now I'm curious as to which one it is.

    2. Nope - that was in "Nothing's Fair in Fifth Grade"

  3. Seems like a fun book