The Girl With 500 Middle Names

Illustrated by Janet Hamlin
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About The Book

"That's not your name," the girl beside me said as I was hanging up my coat. She was reading my sweater.
"Maybe Alexandria is my middle name," I said.

Janie's mother started a knitting business just so Janie's family could move and Janie could go to a better school. But Janie is poorer than her new classmates, and she doesn't fit in. When her mother's business falls apart, Janie thinks of a way to help her family. But it means she will stand out even more. Is she strong enough to face the challenge?
This is the heartwarming story of a girl whose belief in her family enables her to risk embarrassment -- and to make new friends.

Excerpt
Chapter One

"Good-bye, broken chalkboard," I whispered. "Good-bye, cracked floor."

Cross-eyed Krissy turned around and glared at me. Nobody's supposed to call her that, but everybody does -- just not to her face. Krissy had to go through first grade two times, so she's older and bigger than the rest of us third graders. Nobody messes with her. But it's hard not to stare at her eyes. They don't look in the same direction at the same time. At the beginning of last year, I asked her if she could teach me how to do that with my eyes. I thought it was a talent, like whistling or walking on your hands. Cross-eyed Krissy looked at me -- first with one eye, then the other -- and then she spit right on my shoes. Everybody told me I was lucky she didn't beat me up.

Now I shrank down in my seat, like I did every time Cross-eyed Krissy turned around.

"What are you talking about?" she growled.

I reminded myself I wouldn't see Krissy ever again after today either. I spoke up, bold as brass.

"I'm saying good-bye," I said. "I'm going to a new school on Monday."

"Yeah?" Krissy said.

"Yeah," I said, suddenly too full of my news to keep it to myself. "And it's nice. It doesn't have any broken windows at all. It's got carpet three inches thick in all the classrooms, my momma says. And all the kids get to work on computers. And they have a reading corner in the library with fairy-tale people painted on the wall."

Krissy squinted at me. One eye seemed to look off to where one of our classroom windows had been covered with plywood all year long. The other eye just showed white. It was a scary thing, Krissy squinting.

"You're lying," she said, playing with the bottom part of her desk, where it came loose all the time. It made a tapping noise, like a drum. "There ain't no schools like that."

"Children," our teacher, Mrs. Stockrun, said from behind her desk at the front. "I should not be hearing any noise right now. Aren't you doing your worksheets?"

But she didn't even look up. I think she was reading a magazine. One of the boys blew a spitball at her desk.

"I am not lying," I told Krissy.

Cassandra from across the aisle looked over at us.

"She's telling the truth," she told Krissy. "I heard Mrs. Stockrun tell Mrs. Mungo during recess, someone's leaving. 'One less paper to grade,' she said."

I felt sad, all of a sudden, that Mrs. Stockrun wasn't going to miss me any more than that. But I wasn't going to miss her, either.

"So she's leaving," Krissy said, like she didn't want to be proved wrong. "That don't mean she's going someplace nice."

Cassandra was turning a bad word someone had written on the top of her desk into a flower. It had hundreds of petals, and leaves dangling like ivy. It was the prettiest thing I'd ever seen drawn on a desk.

"Oh, she is. I heard that, too," Cassandra said. She heard everything. "Mrs. Stockrun said she's going to the suburbs."

Krissy frowned. I wondered if she'd hit Cassandra for talking back to her. I just wanted to get out of this school without seeing another fight. But Krissy was frowning at me.

"How?" she asked. She was puzzled, not mad. "You're just as poor as the rest of us. How you gonna go to a school like that?"

"Sweaters," I said.

Copyright © 2001 by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Reading Group Guide
ABOUT THE BOOK
Janie's parents move to the suburbs so she can go to a better school, but when she discovers that all the other students are richer than she is, she feels out of place -- until she realizes that there are more important things than money.
THEMES
School stories; Family life; Friendship; Determination
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
€ How does your school compare to the two grade schools Janie goes to?
€ Do clothes tell what a person is like? If so, what? If not, why not?
€ Would you be willing to offer a coat to someone who obviously needs one? How would you go about doing it?
€ Why did the specialty shop owner give Janie's mother back the sweaters? Is it fair to do business in this way? Who actually benefits from this practice?
€ How are the classmates in the two schools portrayed?
ACTIVITIES
€ Find someone who knows how to knit and have the class learn basic knit and purl stitches.
€ Find out how much a winter coat that you want costs. How many hours would someone have to work for that coat if they earned minimum wage; a dollar more; two times more than minimum wage, etc.?
€ What countries do stores such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Dillard's, or JC Penney's buy their clothes from? How much is someone in those countries paid to make these clothes?
This reading group guide is for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Prepared by Julie Tomlianovich
© William Allen White Children's Book Award
Please visit http://www.emporia.edu/libsv/wawbookaward/ for more information about the awards and to see curriculum guides for other master list titles.
About The Author
The Backstage Studio

Margaret Peterson Haddix is the author of many critically and popularly acclaimed YA and middle grade novels, including the Children of Exile series, The Missing series, the Under Their Skin series, and the Shadow Children series. A graduate of Miami University (of Ohio), she worked for several years as a reporter for The Indianapolis News. She also taught at the Danville (Illinois) Area Community College. She lives with her family in Columbus, Ohio. Visit her at HaddixBooks.com.

Raves and Reviews

"Readers will likely warm up to this appealing novel's perceptive, independent-minded title character."

– Publishers Weekly

"A warmhearted tale of a self-possessed girl who is determined to make life better for her parents."

– School Library Journal

"The combination of cozy and challenging elements will make this a good fit for many young readers."

– BCCB

"This thoughtful story shows a girl's faith in family, the importance of welcoming new students, and that money really isn't everything. Recommended."

– Library Talk

Awards and Honors
  • Iowa Children's Choice Award Master List
  • Bank Street Best Books of the Year
  • ABA Pick of the Lists
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