"Experts Incorporated" by Sarah Weeks. from Tripping Over the Lunch Lady and Other School Stories, edited by Nancy Mercado. Dial. ISBN: 9780803728738
Rod Curtain is in big trouble. His humanities teacher has promised the class that if no one fails an assignment all year, she will buy the class pizza and soda to celebrate. There is just one assignment left: each student has to write an essay explaining what he wants to be when he grows up. Rod’s problem is that he doesn’t know what he wants to be, so he hasn’t written the assignment. Thankfully, after a morning spent contemplating unfortunate names, such as his friend Lucas, who always gets called “mucus” and Jessica, whose hyphenated last name is Pepper-Mintz, he gets the idea for Experts, Incorporated, a company designed to help parents realize all the possible problems with the names they choose for their kids.
Nicknames and name-calling are a big part of childhood, and this story is a fun way of exploring the naming process. I love that the main character’s name is a play on “curtain rod,” and that several of his classmates have names that either don’t fit or lend themselves to terrible mockery. I thought it was especially clever to think about whether names will fit as kids get older or not.
This slice of life story offers a fresh, clever take on homework excuses and that inevitable question about what kids want to be when they grow up. In some ways, the quirky sense of humor Weeks uses in writing this story reminds me of Oggie Cooder, her middle school character who marches to the beat of his own drummer.
"Experts, Incorporated" would make a nice ice breaker for the first day of school, or the first meeting of a book club, because it invites kids to share and talk about their names. I’d also love to use it in a library program just on names, maybe combined with an art activity.
I borrowed Tripping Over the Lunch Lady from my local public library.
For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.