The Bad Apple
The Bad Apple

Series: Merits Of Mischief Vol. 1   

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Annotation: After accidentally killing a teacher with an apple, twelve-year-old Seamus is sent to Kilter Academy where he must behave badly in order to excel, but along with friends Lemon and Elinor, he finds there is more to the Academy than meets the eye.
Catalog Number: #5172154
Format: Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Common Core/STEAM: Common Core Common Core
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition Date: 2012
Pages: 337 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 1-442-44029-5
ISBN 13: 978-1-442-44029-6
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2011042333
Dimensions: 19 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
Twelve-year-old Seamus has never been in trouble at school, and he certainly never meant to kill his substitute teacher. But after beaning her with an apple in the middle-school cafeteria, he is sent to Kilter Academy. Despite outward appearances, Kilter is not your typical reform school but an institution bent on turning out "Professional Troublemakers." Seamus has a hard time fitting in, but he quickly grasps the system (demerits are good, gold stars are bad) and earns praise from the enigmatic headmistress. Although both plot and characterization strain credibility at times, this is still an entertaining, anything-but-predictable chapter book. The plot twists, turns, and contorts, keeping readers as mystified as Seamus about his ever-changing predicaments and the meaning of it all. Not your typical boarding-school story (where else is the protagonist's roommate a sleepwalking pyromaniac?), this book will amuse many readers, and the surprise ending may create demand for the next volume in the Merits of Mischief series.
Horn Book
After unintentionally killing a substitute teacher during a cafeteria food fight, Seamus Hinkle is sent away to premier reform school, Kilter Academy. However, it turns out that the school actually teaches troublemaking and rewards students for their misdeeds; despite his desire to behave, Seamus finds that he is a natural. Although quirky and entertaining, the story, first in a series, lacks resolution.
Kirkus Reviews
Mischief has its rewards, especially at Kilter Academy. Twelve-year-old Seamus Hinkle was a good student, a good kid, with a spotless record. Then during a brawl in the cafeteria, he wings an apple at a substitute teacher, hoping to startle her out of intervening and thus save her from near-certain injury--and kills her. He's sent to Kilter Academy for Troubled Youth. After his parents drop him off, Seamus finds things at Kilter aren't what they seem. It's a school to train professional Troublemakers. Pulling one over on the young faculty earns demerits, which equal credits at the Kommissary. Ratting on fellow students earns gold stars, which correspondingly reduce credit at the Kommissary. Weighed down with guilt, Seamus vows to be good, but he keeps inadvertently scaring or making a fool of his teachers and earning demerits. Why does the school's enigmatic director have such confidence in Seamus? Will he ever feel comfortable letting his new friends know why he's at Kilter? Burns' (who's also Tricia Rayburn, Siren, 2010) series starter has an interesting premise and some enjoyable moments. However, there are far too many loose ends at volume's close for this to be a satisfying read in itself. While Seamus's turmoil is believable, he and the rest of the cast are a bit underdeveloped. The lack of solutions to the several mysteries make this more of a turn-off than a page-turner. Perhaps once the series is complete, this will be something to recommend. (Adventure. 8-12)
Publishers Weekly
In this auspicious first entry in the Merits of Mischief series, 12-year-old Seamus Hinkle is sent to the Kilter Academy for Troubled Youth after he accidentally kills his substitute teacher, Miss Parsippany, with an apple. Upon his arrival, however, Seamus discovers that Kilter is actually a school for professional troublemakers: demerits are awarded for bad behavior, gold stars are looked down on, and students use the skills they-ve learned to trick their teachers. Despite his best efforts (and lingering guilt over the death of Miss Parsippany), Seamus appears to be a natural-born troublemaker. Burns (aka author Tricia Rayburn) has hold of a fantastic premise-what-s not to like about a school where pranks and destruction are encouraged and an arsenal of troublemaking devices are available for purchase? It-s easy to get drawn into this fast-paced, funny, and entertaining adventure, filled with sympathetic, eccentric, and mischievously talented characters. At its heart, it-s a story about the importance of individuality and being a good friend, and a last-minute twist will leave readers hungry for the next book. Ages 8-12. Agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (May)

School Library Journal
Gr 4&11;7&12; Twelve-year-old Seamus Hinkle led a fairly ordinary life at a fairly ordinary school until the day he killed his substitute teacher with an apple. The projectile was well intentioned&12;Seamus was trying to prevent the teacher from getting hurt by intervening in a cafeteria fight&12;but the result was disastrous. Subsequently, he is shipped off to Kilter Academy for Troubled Youth. Not long after his parents drive away, he learns the truth about Kilter: it's not a reform school, but rather a training academy for future professional Troublemakers; misbehavior is not merely encouraged, it's required. Seamus intends to lie low and try to keep his infamy a secret from his fellow students, but he finds that he excels at being bad, despite his best efforts to behave. He also makes friends at Kilter, and they ask him to join an alliance to scare their history teacher. This first title in a projected series unfolds through Seamus's narration as he navigates the challenges of training to be a Marksman Troublemaker. There's plenty of humor, but the child's conflicted feelings about Kilter and his guilt about the death he caused propel the story as well. Nowhere is his remorse more evident than in the emails he composes to his late substitute teacher. Though some readers may be frustrated by several dangling plot threads, the cliff-hanger ending will have others clamoring for the next title.&12; Amanda Raklovits, Champaign Public Library, IL
Reviewing Agencies: - Find Other Reviewed Titles
ALA Booklist (5/1/12)
Horn Book (8/1/12)
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
School Library Journal (5/1/12)
Word Count: 59,733
Reading Level: 4.5
Interest Level: 3-6
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.5 / points: 9.0 / quiz: 151581 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:4.4 / points:15.0 / quiz:Q56279
Lexile: 720L

Chapter 1

At exactly 11:17 every Fish Stick Tuesday, Iraise my hand in algebra class and make a very important announcement.

“Seamus Hinkle,” Mr. McGill will say, peering at me over the tops of his dusty glasses. “To what do I owe the honor?”

“I need to use the restroom,” I’ll say.

“I need to go on a permanent tropical vacation. Is there a pass for that?”

This is Mr. McGill’s idea of a joke. Not bad, considering he’s a math teacher who memorizes pi for fun.

“The period’s almost over,” he’ll continue. “Don’t worry about coming back.”

And this is my idea of the perfect response. Mr. McGill never seems to recall that we’ve had the same exact conversation many times before, and neither do my classmates. Sometimes I think it’d be nice to be more memorable, but on Tuesday mornings, it’s always better to be forgotten.

My routine goes off without a hitch, week after week, until Mr. McGill drops his favorite calculator while taking a bubble bath. According to the e-mail he sends all his students, the calculator no longer multiplies. So he takes the day off to repair it.

And we get a substitute.

Her name’s Miss Parsippany. She has curly blond hair, big blue eyes, and a bad case of first-day jitters. By 10:45 she’s dropped—and broken—eight pieces of chalk. At 10:57 she claps two erasers together to clean them and is nearly suffocated by a thick white cloud. At 11:09 she asks for help setting up the laptop projector, and when no one volunteers, she plugs the inside corners of her eyes with her pinkie and thumb to keep them from leaking.

I feel bad for her, but I’m also encouraged by her fragile emotional state. Every second counts on Fish Stick Tuesdays, so at 11:15—two minutes ahead of schedule—I raise my hand.

“Oh.” Miss Parsippany grabs the edge of the desk when she sees me, like she’s afraid of falling down. “You have a question?”

“I need to use the restroom,” I say.

“But there are”—she sifts through a stack of papers, many of which slip from her grasp and float to the floor—“seven minutes left in this period.”

I grab my backpack and start to stand. “Don’t worry. I’ll just go to lunch from there.”

“You can’t.”

I stop. Miss Parsippany’s watching me, her blue eyes wide, her mouth partially open. At first I think she’s about to be sick in Mr. McGill’s circular file, but then her eyes relax and her mouth closes.

“You can’t,” she says again, her voice firmer.

“But I always do. This time, every Tuesday.”

Her eyebrows lower. “You have to use the restroom at the same time every Tuesday?”

To someone who actually pays attention, I can see how this might sound strange.

“Youdo,” a low voice says somewhere behind me. “Why is that?”

“Little kid, little bladder,” another voice says, making the room swell with whispers and giggles.

I know those voices. The kids they belong to are the same ones I’m trying to outrun.

“Please,” I say as my face burns. “I really have to go.”

“Well, I’m sorry. You’ve made it this long, you can make it another few minutes.”

Just my luck. Saying no to me is the one thing for which Miss Parsippany feels qualified.

I stand there, unsure what to do. Part of me is tempted to bolt for the door, but a bigger part locks my feet in place.

So I drop back into my chair. I watch the second hand click around the wall clock. And at 11:19 and forty-five seconds, I throw my backpack onto my shoulders and crouch above my seat, one foot in the aisle.

The bell rings. I run—and am immediately stalled by a gaggle of girls. I veer to the left, but the girl on that end flips her hair over her shoulder, and it catches me in the eye. I veer to the right, but the girl on that end is texting and keeps swerving into the narrow open space between her and the wall. I try slipping between the girls in the middle, but they’re packed tightly together, as if connected by their shiny belts and silver hoop earrings.

Eventually, they make a slow turn toward the courtyard, and I dart past them. I move as quickly as I can, but the hallway’s crowded. By the time the cafeteria comes into view, it’s already 11:25—and I’m four minutes behind schedule.

I burst through the doors and then stop short. It’s even worse than I feared. There are at least thirty kids in line—thirty kids I should be in front of. That’s why I leave math early every Tuesday, to get a head start.

And bringing up the rear is my biggest enemy, my arch-nemesis, my worst nightmare—at least on Monday nights.

Bartholomew John.

He’s everything I’m not. Tall. Strong. Able to talk himself out of trouble despite a seriously stunted vocabulary. In fact, there’s only one thing in the entire world that Bartholomew John and I have in common.

Fish sticks.

Not just any fish sticks. The kind Lady Lorraine and the kitchen crew of Cloudview Middle School make, with crunchy outsides, flaky insides, and an aftertaste that lasts for days.

“Want a boost?” Alex Ortiz, Bartholomew John’s sidekick, asks when I come up behind them. He puts one hand on top of the other, palms up, and squats.

“Or a rocket launcher?” Bartholomew John adds without turning around.

I’m standing on my toes to survey the situation up ahead and now drop to my heels. I don’t answer them. They don’t expect me to. We all know that’s not how this works.

It takes eleven agonizing minutes to reach the lunch counter. I try not to stress by focusing on the comforting aromas of grease and salt, but that only reminds me of what I’ll likely be missing.

“It’s fish stick day?” Bartholomew John asks loudly when he’s next in line. “Alex, didyouknow it was fish stick day?”

“Nope. What an unexpected surprise.”

This exchange is for my benefit. There was an unfortunate incident a few weeks ago, at the beginning of the school year, when Bartholomew John loaded his plate with the last of the fish sticks and I tried to swipe some from his tray. In true Bartholomew John style, he made a big fuss by telling Lady Lorraine, the cafeteria monitors, and eventually the principal that I came up out of nowhere and shoved him aside to steal his food. For extra sympathy points, he added that his family couldn’t afford to go out to eat and that he saved his meager allowance to buy lunch as a special treat.

Never mind that if I tried shoving him aside the force would send me crashing to the floor. Or that both his parents are lawyers. His lie got me after-school detention for the first time ever. The only good thing about the whole situation was that Bartholomew John seemed to forget about it, until today.

Darn that Miss Parsippany.

“This batch is extra yummy,” Lady Lorraine says, sliding a spatula through the tray. “Got distracted by a rat the size of Texas and forgot I had ’em in the fryer.”

“Fantastic.” Bartholomew John grabs the fish sticks she scoops on his plate and shoves them in his mouth.

My chest tightens as she gives him another serving, and another, and another. He clears his plate as fast as she fills it. I manage not to panic until the slick bottom of the tray appears, and then a hot heat shoots from my head to my toes, like I’ve just been dipped in Lady Lorraine’s fish fryer.

“There’s more where that came from,” she says when the tray’s empty.

I fan my face with a stack of napkins. Bartholomew John belches. The sound’s gross but reassuring; I’ve learned from past experience that as delicious as they are, there are only so many fish sticks one human stomach can handle.

“This is it until next week.” Lady Lorraine drops a new tray on the counter.

“Is it fat?”

I tear my gaze away from the fish sticks and look at Alex’s finger, which is pointing to a corner of the kitchen.

“And hairy?” Alex continues. “With a tail that could lasso everyone in this room?”

“It is,” Lady Lorraine says grimly. She tears off her hairnet, grabs a spatula, and spins around.

For a second, I actually believe Alex saw a rat. I’m so busy watching Lady Lorraine creep toward the empty corner that I almost miss what Bartholomew John does next.

He takes a carton of milk. Opens it. And empties it over the remaining fish sticks.

“Calcium.” He crushes the carton in one fist and tosses it on my tray. “Helps you grow.”

I stare at the milk carton. I want to pick it up and hurl it at him, but I know it won’t do any good. Instead I slide my tray past the soggy fish and take my only remaining options: a salad and an apple.

In the cafeteria I sit at an empty table in the back of the room. I take a notebook and pencil from my backpack, push my tray aside, and start a list.


1. Start another list of—

That’s as far as I get before a commotion on the other side of the room makes me look up. Bartholomew John and Alex are standing inches away from three members of the boys’ soccer team. They’re all yelling at the same time, so I can’t tell what they’re arguing about, but I see Bartholomew John shove the team captain, who shoves him back. Alex throws a low punch at another kid, who punches him back. Soon fists and limbs are flying, and students and teachers swarm toward the fight from around the cafeteria.

Troublemakers,I think. Hoping Bartholomew John gets what’s coming, I climb on top of my chair for a better view.

And then I see her. Miss Parsippany. Pushing through the crowd.

She’s going to try to stop them. She managed to say no to me, and now she thinks she can break up a brawl that even the biggest male teachers are afraid to get near.

I usually don’t act without significant forethought, but there’s no time for that now. Keeping my eye on Bartholomew John, I snatch the apple from my lunch tray, bring my arm all the way back, and fling it forward.

In the next instant, the fight’s over.

And Miss Parsippany’s on the floor.

Copyright © 2012 by Tricia Rayburn

Excerpted from The Bad Apple by T. R. Burns
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.

The start of a mischievous new middle-grade series has trouble written all over it.

Twelve-year-old Seamus Hinkle is a good kid with a perfect school record—until the day he accidently kills his substitute teacher with an apple.
     Seamus is immediately shipped off to a detention facility—only to discover that Kilter Academy is actually a school to mold future Troublemakers, where demerits are awarded as a prize for bad behavior and each student is tasked to pull various pranks on their teachers in order to excel. Initially determined to avoid any more mishaps, Seamus nonetheless inadvertently emerges as a uniquely skilled troublemaker. Together with new friends Lemon and Elinor, he rises to the top of his class while beginning to discover that Kilter Academy has some major secrets and surprises in store….

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