Cover image for The janitor's boy
The janitor's boy
Clements, Andrew, 1949-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2000.
Physical Description:
140 pages ; 22 cm
Fifth grader Jack finds himself the target of ridicule at school when it becomes known that his father is one of the janitors, and he turns his anger onto his father.
Reading Level:
770 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.4 4.0 41791.

Reading Counts RC 3-5 4.3 8 Quiz: 21723.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Newstead Library X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Alden Ewell Free Library X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Clearfield Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Clearfield Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
West Seneca Library X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Julia Boyer Reinstein Library X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
City of Tonawanda Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Grand Island Library X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Ordinarily, no one would have imagined that Jack Rankin would vandalize a desk. But this was not an ordinary school year for Jack....

When Jack Rankin learns that he is going to spend the fifth grade in the old high school -- the building where his father works as a janitor -- he dreads the start of school. Jack manages to get through the first month without the kids catching on. Then comes the disastrous day when one of his classmates loses his lunch all over the floor. John the janitor is called in to clean up, and he does the unthinkable -- he turns to Jack with a big smile and says, "Hi, son."
Jack performs an act of revenge and gets himself into a sticky situation. His punishment is to assist the janitor after school for three weeks. The work is tedious, not to mention humiliating. But there is one perk janitors have access to keys, keys to secret places....
In this new novel by the author of Frindle, a boy's explorations lead to surprising new discoveries about himself and his father.

Author Notes

Andrew Clements was born in Camden, New Jersey on May 7, 1949. He received a bachelor's degree in literature from Northwestern University and master's degree in teaching from National Louis University. Before becoming a full-time author, he taught in the public schools north of Chicago for seven years, was a singer-songwriter, and worked in publishing.

He is well known for his picture book texts, but it was his middle school novel, Frindle, that was a breakthrough for his writing career. Frindle won numerous awards including the Georgia Children's Book Award, the Sasquatch Children's Book Award, the Massachusetts Children's Book Award, the Rhode Island Children's Book Award, and the Year 2000 Young Hoosier Book Award. His other works include The Landry News, The Janitor's Boy, No Talking, Things Not Seen, Things Hoped For, and Things That Are.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 3^-7. The author of Frindle (1996) and The Landry News [BKL Je 1 & 15 99] offers another lighthearted school story with much middle-grade appeal. Jack Rankin begins fifth grade in the same building where his father works as head custodian. Jack is embarrassed by his father's job and hopes that no one will make the connection, but when the other kids discover this secret, the teasing begins. Jack retaliates, earning a three-week detention helping his dad after school. Although at first this seems like a life sentence--scraping gum off the bottoms of desks and chairs--it turns out to be the beginning of real understanding between father and son. Clements' strength is his realistic depiction of public schools, both from the child and the adult point of view. Jack's antics and those of his classmates ring true, as do the behaviors of the teachers and administrators. Less believable are the coincidental secrets that link Jack and his father with his grandfather, though Clements' legion of fans aren't likely to mind. --Kay Weisman

Publisher's Weekly Review

As he did in Frindle and The Landry News, Clements here puts an intelligent and credible fifth-grader at the center of a memorable novel. As the book opens, Jack, after much careful planning, is executing the "perfect crime": he assembles the biggest, stickiest wad of gum imaginable and affixes it to the desk in the back row of the music room. Why? The novel then flashes back to the moment when Jack's father, John, the head janitor, comes into his classroom to clean up vomit and calls Jack "son." At that point, "Jack felt like a giant letter had been branded on his forehead--L, for Loser." When Jack gets caught and the vice principal assigns him to three weeks' duty of scraping gum from school property after school, Jack decides, "There was only one person to blame for the whole mess.... Thanks again, Dad." Clements slowly builds an even, affecting narrative to reveal how Jack comes to better know and appreciate John, effectively drawing a parallel between this father-son relationship and John's relationship with his own father. The author adds a mystery to the mix when the boy discovers keys in the janitor's closet, which unlock literal doors to his understanding of his father. The author's uncanny ability to capture the fragile transformation from child to adolescent and its impact on family relationships informs every aspect of the novel. Ages 8-12. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-Ever since second grade when he announced to his class that he wanted to grow up and become a janitor like his father, Jack Rankin has been the target of relentless teasing about his dad's work. Now a fifth grader, he learns that the town's century-old high school, where his father is head custodian, will serve as his temporary school while a new elementary building is under construction. Horrified at the prospect of being identified as the janitor's son, he becomes so full of anger that he can barely acknowledge his father at school, and vandalizes a desk. When he is caught, however, the principal assigns a most ironic punishment: Jack must spend three weeks cleaning gum off of school furniture, supervised by his own father. In effect, Jack becomes the building's newest janitor, inviting a fresh onslaught of torment from classmates and escalating his anger. Only when the boy finds a set of master keys that allow access to the building's bell tower and underground tunnels does he make a discovery that dramatically changes his opinion about his father. This novel frequently stalls amid weakly drawn characters, contrived dialogue, and a predictable plot. Even Jack's spiritual epiphany is so quick and tidy that it seems implausible. In spite of its shortcomings, the book will appeal to readers who will identify with the beleaguered Jack and his struggle to make peace with his father and with himself.-William McLoughlin, Brookside School, Worthington, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1: The Perfect Crime Jack Rankin had a particularly sensitive nose. As he walked into school in the morning, sometimes he would pause in the entryway and pull in a snootload of air from the flow rushing out the door. Instantly he could tell what the cafeteria lunch would be, right down to whether the Jell-O was strawberry or orange. He could tell if the school secretary was wearing perfume, and whether there was an open box of doughnuts on the table in the teachers room on the second floor. On this particular Monday morning Jack's nose was on high alert. He was working on a special project -- a bubble gum project. Today's activity was the result of about a week's worth of research and planning. Days ago, Jack had begun the project by secretly examining the bottoms of desks and tables all over the school, trying to decide exactly which kind of discarded gum was the most unpleasant. After he conducted his first few sniff tests, he didn't even have to look underneath a table or a chair to tell if there was gum. The scent of the stuff followed him from class to class. He had gum on the brain. He smelled gum everywhere -- on the bus, in the halls, passing a locker, walking into a classroom. Jack finally chose watermelon Bubblicious. It had to be the smelliest gum in the universe. Even weeks after being stuck under a chair or table, that sickly sweet smell and distinctive crimson color were unmistakable. And Bubblicious, any flavor of it, was definitely the stickiest gum available. By Jack's calculations, it was more than three times stickier than Bazooka. The final stage of Jack's gum caper began in today's third-period gym class. Mr. Sargent had them outside in the cool October air, running wind sprints to prepare for a timed mile next week. By the end of the period Jack had four pieces of gum in his mouth, chewed to maximum stickiness. The smell of it almost overpowered him. Carefully steering a wide path around Mr. Sargent, he went to his locker before the next class. He spat the chewed gum into a sandwich bag he had brought from home. The bag had two or three tablespoons of water in it to keep the gum from sticking to the plastic. Jack sealed the bag, stuffed it into his pocket, and immediately jammed another two pieces of gum into his mouth and started to chew. He processed those two pieces plus two more during science, managed to chew up another four pieces during lunch period, and even finished one piece during math -- quite an accomplishment in Mrs. Lambert's classroom. By the time he got to music, he had thirteen chewed pieces of gum in a plastic bag in the pocket of his jeans -- all warm and soft and sticky. Monday-afternoon music class was the ideal crime scene. The room had four levels, stair-stepping down toward the front. The seats were never assigned, and Mr. Pike always made kids fill the class from the front of the room backward. By walking in the door just as the echo of the bell was fading, Jack was guaranteed a seat in the back row. He sat directly behind Jed Ellis, also known as Giant Jed. With no effort at all he was completely hidden from Mr. Pike. The only other person in the back row was Kerry Loomis, sitting six seats away. She was hiding too, hunched over a notebook, trying to finish some homework. Jack had half a crush on Kerry. On a normal day he would have tried to get her attention, make her laugh, show off a little. But today was anything but normal. Mr. Pike was at the front of the room. Standing behind the upright piano, he pounded out a melody with one hand and flailed the air with his other one, trying to get fidgety fifth graders to sing their hearts out. Jack Rankin was supposed to be singing along with the rest of the chorus. He was supposed to be learning a new song for the fall concert. The song was something about eagles soaring and being free and happy -- not how Jack was feeling at this moment. Bending down, Jack brought the baggie up to his mouth and stuffed in all thirteen pieces of gum for a last softening chew. The lump was bigger than a golf ball, and he nearly gagged as he worked it into final readiness, keeping one eye on the clock. With one minute of class left, Mr. Pike was singing along now, his head bobbing like a madman, urging the kids to open their mouths wider. As the class hit a high note singing the word "sky," Jack leaned over and let the huge wad of gum drop from his mouth into his moistened hand. Then he began applying the gum to the underside of the folding desktop, just as he'd planned. He stuck it first to the front outside edge and then pulled a heavy smear toward the opposite corner. Then he stretched the mass to the other corner and repeated the action, making a big, sticky X. Round and round Jack dragged the gum, working inward toward the center like a spider spinning a gooey, scented web. As the bell rang Jack stood up and pulled the last gob of gum downward, pasting it onto the middle of the metal seat. A strand of sagging goo led upward, still attached to the underside of the desk. It was the perfect crime. The whole back of the music room reeked of artificial watermelon. And that gob on the seat? Sheer genius. Jack allowed himself a grim little smile as he shouldered his way into the hall. There were two more class periods, so a kid would have to notice the mess today -- this very afternoon. Mr. Pike would have to pull the desk aside so no one would get tangled in the gunk. Mr. Pike would need to get someone to clean it up before tomorrow. So after someone had swept the rooms and emptied the trash cans and washed the chalkboards and dusted the stairs and mopped the halls and cleaned the entryway rugs, someone would also have to find a putty knife and a can of solvent and try to get a very sticky, very smelly desk ready for Tuesday morning. It would be a messy job, but someone would have to do it. And Jack knew exactly who that someone would be. It would be the man almost everyone called John -- John the janitor. Of all the kids in the school, Jack was the only one who didn't call him John. Jack called him a different name. Jack called him Dad. Copyright © 2000 by Andrew Clements Chapter 2: What Do You Want to Be? Ordinarily, no one would have imagined that Jack Rankin would vandalize a desk. But this was not an ordinary school year for Jack -- or for any of his classmates, either. The town of Huntington was growing, and more families with kids were moving in all the time. The town seemed to be playing a game of musical chairs -- too many kids and not enough schoolrooms. The kids in grades nine through twelve were all set. They had already made the move to a brand-new high school out on the west edge of town. The elementary school was still in good shape, but it was only big enough now for the kids in kindergarten through grade three. It was Jack and the other kids caught in the middle grades who had the problem. The old junior high would work fine for grades four and five -- that is, after about ten months of repair work. And the kids in grades six, seven, and eight would have a shiny, new junior high school -- in about another year. So where do you park Jack and about seven hundred other kids and all their teachers and textbooks and computers and printers and copiers and TVs and VCRs and art supplies, plus their library, for a whole school year? Simple. You put them in the old high school. Not simple. Not simple at all. The old high school was...well, it was old. The four-story brick building had been part of Huntington's town center for more than seventy-five years. The broad front lawn was split by a wide sidewalk leading up to the front steps. High above the front steps, a square bell tower rose another thirty feet beyond the roofline. The bell tower was capped by a green copper dome with a weather vane on top -- made in the shape of an open book. The old high school had been built back when fewer kids went on to college. It was Huntington's monument to higher education. For generations graduation from Huntington High had been the goal line. But not for Jack and the other middle graders. For them it was going to be an educational stopover -- sort of like a long field trip. It would be nothing more than a strange world they would pass through on their way to somewhere else. And from the second Jack heard about the move, he wished he could make the whole place just disappear. The news of the school changes had been mailed to every home in Huntington just before spring break during Jack's fourth-grade year. His mom had read the letter aloud at supper one night. Someone at the school superintendent's office thought it would be fun to give the transition process a cute name. The letter began like this: Dear Student: Are you and your friends and family ready for Huntington's newest adventure in learning? Next year will be the year of THE BIG SWITCHEROO! Jack was not amused. After she finished the letter, his mom said, "Don't you think it's exciting, Jack? Those special tours in June should be fun. They want all the kids to feel comfortable, especially the fourth- and fifth-grade kids...Of course, that's not a problem for you, I mean with your dad working there and all." Jack looked quickly at his dad across the dinner table. "Won't you be going to work at the new high school, Dad? I mean, you're the high school janitor, right?" Wiping his mouth, John Rankin smiled and said, "Nope. It doesn't work that way. What I am is the janitor for a building . The high school and all the high school kids are moving, but the building stays -- so I stay too. No one knows that building like I do. Unless the town decides to tear it down, that'll be where I work." Jack's mom said, "I loved going to school in that old place. It's got character, you know? And Jackie, if you don't want to take the bus some mornings, you could ride to school in the pickup with your dad." Looking down at the pile of peas on his plate, Jack thought, Yeah, right. Like I'm going to ride to school with the janitor. Jack knew he'd be on that bus every day, no matter what. Jack remembered the first time he had been asked about his future. It was second grade, and Miss Patton had a let's-get-acquainted session on the first day of school. Jack liked Miss Patton. She wore the same kind of perfume that his grandmother wore, only a lot less. She was conducting a little public interview with each student. She asked questions like, Do you have any brothers or sisters? Do you have any pets? What's your favorite food? Do you like sports? If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?The last question she asked was always, And what do you want to be when you grow up? The answers to that question had been all over the place. "I'm going to be a policeman." "I want to be a doctor." "I want to own a ranch and raise cows and chickens." "I want to be a lawyer when I grow up." "I'm going to be an astronaut and fly to Jupiter." "I'm going to make computers." Then it was Jack's turn. Favorite color? Blue. Brothers or sisters? One little sister. Favorite food? Pizza. "And what do you want to be when you grow up, Jack?" There was no hesitation. Jack smiled with perfect second-grade certainty and he said, "I want to be a janitor, like my dad." Before Miss Patton could say something like, "That's great, Jack," some kids in the class began to giggle. Raymond Hollis blurted out, "A janitor? That's a job for dum-dums! Hey, Jack wants to grow up to be a dum-dum like his dum-dum daddy!" That got the whole class laughing. Miss Patton shushed them and said, "Raymond, that was not nice, and you owe Jack an apology. Being a janitor is a perfectly good job, and I'm sure Jack is very proud of his dad." Jack was proud of his dad, and he loved him very much. But laughter from kids is more powerful than words from teachers. Raymond had to stand up and say, "I'm sorry, Jack," but Jack could tell he didn't mean it. Ever since that day in second grade, whenever the conversation turned toward parents and jobs, Jack clammed up. But as fifth grade approached, the topic was going to be unavoidable. All summer long, whenever Jack thought about school, he felt like he was trapped in a bad dream. Copyright © 2000 by Andrew Clements Excerpted from The Janitor's Boy by Andrew Clements All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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