Cover image for Swear to howdy
Swear to howdy
Van Draanen, Wendelin.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, [2003]

Physical Description:
126 pages ; 22 cm
Two thirteen-year-old boys share neighborhood adventures, complaints about their older sisters, family secrets, and even guilt that bind them together in a special friendship.
Reading Level:

620 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 3.8 4.0 73214.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.1 9 Quiz: 34232 Guided reading level: NR.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library X Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Joey Banks is a walking adventure. He's funny, daring, mischievous--and frequently in trouble. Or he would be if anyone found out about half the stuff he's done. But Rusty Cooper knows how to keep a secret. And Joey's the best friend he's ever had. But then comes a secret that is at once too terrible to tell and too terrible to keep. A secret so big it threatens to eat them alive. What would a true friend do now?

Wendelin Van Draanen has written her most compelling, richly layered book yet. It's a thought-provoking look at the boundaries of friendship and what it really means to be true.

Author Notes

Wendelin Van Draanen was born on January 6, 1965 in Chicago, Illinois. She is the daughter of chemists who emigrated from Holland. She worked as a math teacher and then as a computer science teacher before becoming an author. Wendelin Van Draanen began her writing career with a screenplay and soon switched to adult novels and then children's books. She is best known for her Sammy Keyes series of novels, which she started writing in 1997, featuring a teenage detective named Samantha Keyes. Her popular Sammy Keyes series had been nominated four times for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Children's Mystery and won with "Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief". Her Shredderman series also yielded a Christopher Medal for Secret Identity. She has also written several novels such as: How I Survived Being a Girl and Flipped.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5-7. The summer Rusty Cooper moves next door to Joey Banks is one of the best in his life. Joey is a fearless adventurer and a creative prankster, and Rusty is proud to be his friend even though being buddies with Joey means keeping secrets, especially after escapades backfire. Rusty gladly agrees to keep silent, nicking his finger to make a blood pact. But then Joey's sister dies as a result of a prank, and Rusty learns that friendship may mean breaking promises and getting help from adults. Van Draanen deftly hooks readers and keeps their attention with a series of hilarious stunts right up to the shocking climax. Van Draanen masterfully portrays the changing attitudes of 12-year-olds oblivious to the possible consequences of their actions, and without resorting to contrivances, she provides plenty of clues to Rusty and Joey's desperate actions. A deceptively simple narrative, funny at the outset but realistic in its consideration of some very serious issues. Give this to readers who liked Marion Dane Bauer's On My Honor (2001). --Chris Sherman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Van Draanen's (Flipped; the Sammy Keyes novels) trenchant tale introduces two best friends who are constantly making pacts-hammering their fists, trading blood and pledging secrecy: "I swear to howdy, if you tell a soul...." When narrator Rusty's family moves in next door to Joey's family, the middle schoolers become inseparable; says Rusty, "I had more fun in that single summer than I'd had in my entire life combined." Rusty's idea of "fun" won't be shared by everyone. For example, Joey is swimming as he teaches Rusty how to "make righteous farts" on command, a fish grabs onto Joey's "privates," and Joey avenges himself by frying the fish "to a crisp" and eating it. The boys put bugs in the sodas that their uppity older sisters are selling at a baseball game, costing the girls their jobs. Gradually the mood grows darker. Hoping to avoid a "switchin' " by his abusive, alcoholic father, Joey tries to keep the family goldfish alive, and surreptitiously purchases a string of replacements when fish after fish dies. And when Joey's father hires the boys to shoot some pesky squirrels, Joey mistakenly kills the man's beloved cat-an accident Rusty joins him in concealing. But the friends' secret-keeping skills are put to the ultimate test when a seemingly innocent joke results in tragedy. While the ending is overly tidy, the book's sympathetic protagonists, convincing colloquial dialogue and poignant conflicts will likely leave an impression on young readers. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-Joey Banks and Rusty Cooper could give Tom and Huck some serious competition when it comes to playing boyish pranks. Wendelin VanDraanen's (Knopf/Borzoi, 2003) countrified main characters are 12-year-old best friends who spend summer afternoons at their own private swimming hole and get their kicks putting fat frogs in Joey's older sister's underwear drawer. These pranks require total secrecy between the friends, so Joey always makes Rusty "swear to howdy" that he'll never tell and then they press bloody fingertips together. Their adventures go on for most of the book, each chapter relating yet another tale of the boys' tight bond of friendship. However, the novel takes a darker, more morbid turn when a practical joke turns tragic and the boys are eaten up by their secret guilt. The story becomes much more compelling as listeners wait to find out if Joey and Rusty can survive the horrible pact that they've made. Veteran narrator Jeff Woodman excellent narration helps to set the scene and captures the boys' innocence in his voice as well as the emotions of other characters. Listeners hear the anger in Mr. Banks' commands, the shrieks of Amanda Jane when she finds the frog, and the sadness in the boys' dialogue after the tragedy occurs. This thought-provoking novel will generate discussions about trust and what it means to be a "true" friend. A good choice for school and public libraries, and especially appealing to preteen and young teen boys.-Casey Rondini, Hartford Public Library, CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1 Crappies Bite Joey's blood got mixed up in mine the same way mine got mixed up in his. Drop by drop. Pact by pact. And there's times that makes me feel good, but there's times it creeps me out. Reminds me. Seems like Joey and me were always making pacts. Lots of pacts, leading up to that last one. "Rusty," he'd say to me. "I swear to howdy, if you tell a soul . . ." "I won't!" I'd tell him. "I swear!" Then he'd put out his fist and we'd go through the ritual, hammering fists and punching knuckles. And after we'd nicked fingers and mixed blood he'd heave a sigh and say, "You're a true friend, Rusty-boy," and that'd be that. Another secret, sealed for life. Joey's family moved to Lost River two years before we did, so Pickett Lane was his turf, and that was just fine by me. Especially since he was so cool about it the summer we came to live next door. "Russell Cooper?" he'd asked me, and I'd thought, Oh man. Here we go again. Cooper-pooper. Pooper-scooper. I get the same old thing, everywhere I go. But then he grinned at me the way only Joey Banks could grin, with one side of his face looped way up, and teeth showing everywhere. He nodded. "Rusty. That's what we'll call ya." "Huh?" "Don't stand there looking at me like a load of bricks, boy. You ain't never gonna survive around here with a name like Russell." I must have been blinking but good, 'cause he slapped me across the face, whap-whap. Not hard or anything. Just playful-like. Then he waved me along, saying, "C'mon, Rusty. I'll show you around." He tore down to the river, and I tore right after him. "This here's my hole," he said when we got to a side pool with tree branches hanging over it and rocks nearly clear around. "And nobody else better get caught swimmin' in it." He gave me that loopy grin again. "Nobody but me and you." I almost said, "Me?" 'cause I couldn't believe my ears. It was the coolest pool I'd ever seen. There was a thick rope for swinging, and the rocks were flat and great for sunning. Not the kind of place that's easy to share. 'Specially with a stranger. But I bit my tongue and filled my pocket with rocks like he was doing, then scrambled up the tree behind him. And when we were perched nice and steady, he started skipping rocks across the river, saying, "Let's see your arm, Rusty. How far can you hurl?" Not as far as him, that's for sure. Especially since I had the wobbles, way up in that tree. But I chucked them as good as I could, and every time one plopped in the water, Joey'd say, "Nice one, Rusty! You're gettin' it!" Then he'd chuck one of his own nearly clear to the other shore. When we were out of rocks, he started snapping off sticks. "Here, Rusty. Do like this," he told me, peeling leaves off. "Then shoot it in like . . ." He let it fly like a dart. "Watch it now . . . crappies pop up and snag 'em sometimes." "Crappies do? You get 'em out here?" He laughed. "Yep. Dad says they're lost, and I don't doubt it. Dumbest fish known to man. You can catch 'em with your thumb--if you got the nerve." "You done that?" I asked him. Snap went another twig, and he shot it in. "More'n once." He eyed me. "Hurts like hell." We watched the twig land and sail downstream. "They're good eatin', though. Man, they're tasty." But the crappies weren't biting. Not at twigs, anyway. So after a spell Joey said, "Up for a swim, Rusty?" "Now?" It was getting dark. Cooling off quick. "Any time's good," he laughed. "Water's always just right." He yanked off his shirt and his shoes and flung them down to shore. Then came the socks, fling, fling. And with a little scoot forward he grabbed the rope and said, "It's a blast, Rust, trust me." "You goin' in like that?" I asked, looking at his jeans. "I ain't gonna drown, if that's what you're worried about." He pulled up the rope, then backed along his branch, getting ready. "And I ain't gettin' down to my skivvies in front of you." He pushed off and swung out over the water, hollerin', "We only just met!" Mama and Dad were none too pleased to see me soaked to the gills when I got home. And Sissy told me I looked like a drowned muskrat, then went back to painting her toes. But I ate like a horse and yapped like a terrier through supper, and everyone was surprised 'cause Mama claims I'm given to "quiet brooding." So the next day, they let me go again. And the next, too. And the day after that. And before long Joey and me were swinging doubles and bombing each other in the pool, wearing nothing but skivvies and big fat grins. We'd catch frogs and launch them into the river, too. Joey'd call, "Come 'n' get it!" to the crappies, but pretty much the frogs would just swim for a bit with their legs all sprawled, then go under on their own. And maybe it doesn't seem too exciting, doing this stuff day after day, but I had more fun in that single summer than I'd had in my entire life combined. Excerpted from Swear to Howdy by Wendelin Van Draanen 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.

Table of Contents

1. Crappies Bitep. 9
2. Diamond Doll Revengep. 19
3. Swappin' to Avoid a Switchin'p. 32
4. Gaggy Goldfishp. 41
5. Plinkingp. 51
6. Say "Aaaah ..."p. 63
7. Squishin' Out Green Tomatoesp. 76
8. Tank Goes to Schoolp. 86
9. Sissy Cooks Her Own Goosep. 96
10. The Ghost of Lost Riverp. 110
11. Blackberry Mudp. 120
12. Breaking Pointp. 132
13. Sentencedp. 145

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