Elementary: Great For All

Niagara Falls, Or Does It?

Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver
2003

Friendship

Fun!

Resilience

Teamwork

Racial Diversity

STE(A)M

The Hank Zipzer series is the creation of Henry Winkler (yes, the Fonz, from Happy Days). He began the series to give voice to his own struggles in school when he was a child with dyslexia.

So he created Hank Zipzer – “the world’s greatest underachiever.” Yes, Hank struggles with the technical aspects of school but Winkler and his co-author, Lin Oliver, give Hank a fully-drawn personality, plucky, resourceful, and irrepressible. He will appeal to almost any elementary school student – those with learning challenges and those without.

The trouble for Hank begins when his strict new teacher, Ms. Adolf, assigns a five-paragraph essay on “What I did on my summer vacation.” Hank had lots of fun at Niagara Falls, but the prospect of writing a full essay leaves him dismayed…to say the least.

“So how am I ever going to write an entire five-paragraph essay? Ms. Adolf might as well have asked me to ski down Mount Everest…backwards…blind-folded…and butt naked.”

Hank’s troubles are compounded by Principal Love – he of the mole shaped like the Statue of Liberty – with whom Hank spends more time than he would like. And, there is the class bully, Nick McKelty, who is always looking for a way to put Hank in his place.

Luckily, Hank has two terrific friends – Ashley and Frankie – in his corner. They see the best in Hank. As Frankie tells Hank, “You are amazing, Zip. You have so much trouble with so many things, but never with your mouth. It’s a brilliant mouth.”

Together with his pals, Hank devises a plan to present his summer vacation trip in papier-mâché, rather than the dreaded essay. All goes fine…until it doesn’t, sending water and soggy paper globs everywhere, and landing Hank in detention. There, his fortune turns when the detention teacher, Mr. Rock, recognizes Hank’s learning differences and offers to help.

Along the way, we get to hang out with Hank’s irresistibly charming grandfather, Papa Pete, as they share slices of pizza, root beer floats, and moments of real wisdom. It is Papa Pete who helps Hank understand that “different” doesn’t mean “stupid.”

“Take pickles. There are big ones and little ones, smooth ones and bumpy ones, very crunchy ones and not-so-crunchy ones. There are bread-and-butter pickles, gherkins, hamburger slices, half-dills, full-dills… The point is this. They’re all different and they’re all delicious to someone. And you, my grandson, are positively delicious.”

Hank Zipzer helps all of us understand learning challenges in lively, fast-paced 144 pages. Fans of the series can look forward to 16 sequels!