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Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen

Word Nerd
y Susin Nielsen-Fernlund

Publishing Information: Tundra Books: Plattsburgh, N.Y., 2008
ISBN: 9780375834868 / 9780375834875 / 9780739371282 (Audio)
: 256 p.
Ages: 9 & Up

Ambrose is a magnet for bullies, making his mother decide to homeschool him.  He then befriends the neighborhood ex-con and joins a scrabble club … all behind his mother's back!

Twelve-year-old Ambrose is a glass-half-full kind of guy. A self-described “friendless nerd,” he moves from place to place every couple of years with his overprotective mother, Irene. When some bullies at his new school almost kill him by slipping a peanut into his sandwich — even though they know he has a deathly allergy — Ambrose is philosophical. His mom, however, is not and decides that Ambrose will be home-schooled. Alone in the evenings when Irene goes to work, Ambrose pesters Cosmo, the twenty-five-year-old son of the Greek landlords who live upstairs. Cosmo has just been released from jail for breaking and entering to support a drug habit. Quite by accident, Ambrose discovers that they share a love of Scrabble, and he coerces Cosmo into taking him to the West Side Scrabble Club, where Cosmo proceeds to fall for Amanda, the club director. Posing as Ambrose’s Big Brother to impress her, Cosmo is motivated to take Ambrose to the weekly meetings and to give him lessons in self-defense. Cosmo, Amanda, and Ambrose soon form an unlikely alliance and, for the first time in his life, Ambrose blossoms. The characters at the Scrabble Club come to embrace Ambrose for who he is and for their shared love of words. There’s only one problem:  Irene has no idea what Ambrose is up to.

Book Talk:

down, red, doe, ode, doer, order, odder, nod


My name is Ambrose. My dad died before I was born, so my mom's always been a little overprotective. We move around a lot, which I don't really like. Right now, we live in an apartment owned by Mr. and Mrs. Economopoulos, which I do like. I guess I understand Mom's being overprotective because not long ago, a few of my classmates tried to kill me. OK, they didn't really try to kill me. They stuck a peanut in my sandwich, and I'm allergic to peanuts.

Very allergic.

After that, instead of moving to a new city like we usually do, Mom pulled me out of public school and put me in a homeschooling program. It's pretty cool, I guess. I stay at home and do my work from there, and once a week I go into school so I can interact with a real teacher. It saves me the trouble of trying to fit in with my classmates, and the bullies don't have to beat me up for being a weirdo. It's a good arrangement for everyone.

You've probably figured out that I'm not the coolest kid ever. Mostly, I'm a nerd.

I figured this homeschooling thing would be pretty decent. But then the Economopoulos' son came home from prison. He's a real felon. He's got tattoos and everything. I don't know what he was in prison for, but I imagine it was serious. Mom says he seems scary, but I think he might actually be a pretty nice guy.

At least, I hope he is, 'cause I bribed him to take me to Scrabble Club on Saturday. And if Mom finds out that I'm riding around town with a convicted felon, I'll probably never see the light of day again.
Subject Headings & Major Themes:


Awards & Reviews:
Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Nominee, 2008
Ontario Library Association Red Mable Award, 2010
Alberta Rocky Mountain Book Award, 2010

Book Links, January 1, 2010
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
, September 1, 2008
Horn Book
, April, 1, 2009
Resource Links, October 1, 2008
School Library Journal, December 1, 2008

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Word Nerd is set in Vancouver, British Columbia. Is the Canadian teen experience similar to that in the United States? What clues tell you that the story is set in Canada?
  2. Ambrose, his mother, and his neighbor Cosmo are all misfits in relation to their peers. Which character changes the most throughout the story?
  3. What did you think about the reactions of Mrs. Bukowski, Mr. Acheson, and the boys in the principal's office scene?
  4. Were the bullies who tampered with Ambrose’s lunch punished sufficiently? Should students work out their differences, or should school administrators get involved?
  5. “Sometimes a guy could feel lonelier surrounded by people that he could when he was alone.” Respond to this statement.
  6. Why did Ambrose decide to tell his mom that everything is working out well in his new school?
  7. Ambrose lies to his mother about joining the scrabble club. Does he put himself in danger by lying? What was Ambrose’s justification for lying? Is Ambrose a pathological liar?
  8. Why does Ambrose keep his friendship with Cosmo secret? Does this behavior fit with his characterization?
  9. Does Ambrose’s mother have valid concerns about Ambrose’s chaperone and new hobby?
  10. Ambrose is told that he can rub people the wrong way. How does having no filter on his thoughts and comments cause social troubles for him?
  11. Ambrose is a self-professed nerd. What does he mean by this? Do you agree that he is a nerd? Do you think Ambrose could be autistic? Why or why not?

Related Websites:
Author's Website -
Official World Wide Scrabble Home Page -

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Other Books by the Author:
Hank and Fergus
, 2003
Mormor Moves in, 2004
The Magic Beads, 2007
Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom, 2010

About the Author:
Susin got her start feeding cast and crew muffins and bologna sandwiches on the award-winning television series, Degrassi Junior High. They hated her food (a fact that's memorialized forever in a poem the cast wrote: "An ode to Susin, the Bran Muffin Queen, we eat them, we die, then we turn green"). Luckily for Susin, however, they saw a spark in a spec script she wrote. Susin went on to pen 16 episodes of Degrassi Junior HighandDegrassi High. She also got her first crack at novel writing when she was asked to write Shane, one of the books in the Degrassi series. She went on to write three more: Wheels, Snake, and Melanie. She loved writing in book form, and vowed that one day she would write an original young adult novel.

But the TV world beckoned, and over the next number of years Nielsen wrote for and executive story-edited on many well-received TV series, including Ready or Not, Madison, The Adventures of Shirley Holmes, Edgemont, Heartland and the animated series, What About Mimi and Braceface. She also co-created the pre-school series, Franny's Feet. More recently she co-created the critically acclaimed series Robson Arms, acting as head writer and showrunner for three successful seasons. She also adapted Alice, I Think for television, a half-hour comedy series based on the best-selling novels by Susan Juby.

In between the TV work she found time to write three children's books: Hank and Fergus (winner of the Mr. Christie's Silver Medal Award), Mormor Moves In (both published by Orca), and The Magic Beads (published by Simply Read).

Finally, in 2006, she fulfilled her vow from years earlier and wrote her first wholly original young adult novel, Word Nerd. It was published in fall 2008 by Tundra Books.

Susin lives in Vancouver with her husband Goran, son Oskar, and cat Sam.

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair