Larger-Than-Life Lara

Larger-Than-Life Lara

by Dandi Daley Mackall


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This isn’t about me. This story, I mean. So already you got a reason to hang it up. At least that’s what Mrs. Smith, our English teacher, says.

But the story is about ten-year-old Laney Grafton and the new girl in her class—Lara Phelps, whom everyone bullies from the minute she shows up. Laney is just relieved to have someone else as a target of bullying. But instead of acting the way a bullied kid normally acts, this new girl returns kindness for a meanness that intensifies . . . until nobody remains unchanged, not even the reader.

In a unique and multi-layered story, with equal parts humor and angst, Laney communicates the art of storytelling as it happens, with chapter headings, such as: Character, Setting, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax. And she weaves an unforgettable tale of a new girl who transforms an entire class and, in the process, reveals the best and worst in all of us.

This is a powerful and emotional story, which School Library Journal called “Thoroughly enjoyable and unexpectedly wry, . . . as intelligent as it is succinct.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496414304
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 11/01/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 747,878
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Dandi Daley Mackall is theauthor of numerous books for children, includingLarger-Than-Life Lara. She lives in West Salem, Ohio,with her husband and their three children.

Read an Excerpt

Larger-than-life Lara

By Dandi Daley Mackall, Sarah Rubio

Tyndale House Publishers

Copyright © 2016 Dandi A. Mackall
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4964-1430-4


THIS ISN'T ABOUT ME. This story, I mean. So already you got a reason to hang it up. At least that's what Mrs. Smith, my teacher, says. She teaches fourth graders in Paris, Missouri, how to write stories. But I think she'd about a hundred million times rather be in Paris, France, writing her own stories.

So anyways, she says you got to start with a character when you start your story. And since I'm the first "character" you hear from in my story, that should mean it's about me. Laney Grafton, age ten, or nearly so, small for her age, but tough as a horseshoe, thanks to three big brothers and one bathroom. Stringy, brownish hair and brown eyes. Not much to look at, but couldn't make a living scaring crows neither.

But it's not. About me. Because once you get yourself a character for your story, Mrs. Smith says you give the character a problem. And the whole rest of the story's about that problem getting bigger and bigger, and the character getting to be a better and better person, and then the character solves the problem. And that's it. The end.

Only it's not me what's got the problem. And I'm not a better person than I was three months ago when all this stuff happened — just ask my daddy or any of my three stupid brothers, if you don't believe me. So, like I said, this story's not about me. And Mrs. Smith, if you're out there reading it, well, I'm just sorry about that. But that's the way it is. Sometimes stories don't work out like they're supposed to.


The Beginning

THE FIRST THING THAT HAPPENED was that everybody in the whole fourth-grade class, and that includes Mrs. Smith, stopped talking. She was right in the middle of telling us about William Shakespeare, who invented plays in England. Plus, she was telling us about a play our whole class was going to put on and how some of us could be in it and others of us would be really important, but not on stage, and that shouldn't make us feel bad. And we were all looking at Mrs. Smith because she gets real mad at us when we don't. I was watching the way her eyes changed size when she finished each sentence, getting bigger, like periods stretching into exclamation points.

So anyways, that was the first thing. I heard quiet.

The second thing was the air changed. Now this is where Mrs. Smith and Amanda Catron and Tommy Otto would argue with me. But this is my story, and I say that the air in our classroom changed. It was hot, lemon-drop-sweating hot, so as even Maddie Simpson looked like she'd tiptoed through a water sprinkler. And I'm not saying that the air turned to ice or nothing. But I stopped sweating. So there you have it.

There must have been footsteps because nobody, especially a kid who looked like this one, big as a sofa, could just sneak into a room without them. But I didn't hear any footsteps. And my daddy says I can hear a cat whisper. (When he's been drinking, he says the cats in China can hear me, which is his way of saying shut up, and he has other ways of saying shut up, but you can't write them into a story. Mrs. Smith would call this part a digression. I'm thinking I can get away with it because it's all inside these parentheses.)

Before I saw who had come into our room and changed the air, I saw Joey Gilbert see her. Joey looked like he'd just spotted a ghost, or maybe his mother coming to get him after the principal's kicked him out of school for a week for punching a littler kid. Then I saw Marissa see her. Marissa is so shy, you almost never see her face. But at that minute, her face was in full view, and it was nearly all eyes and mouth dropped open.

Then I saw her. I've seen her so much since that very first time that it's honest-to-Pete hard to say what I thought she looked like. And this is something I never thought about as a writer of real things you haven't made up. It's not easy to write the truth, even when that's all you set out to do.

I guess I remember thinking that this was the biggest girl I'd ever seen. Right away I wondered if she was stuck in the doorway, because she was still standing there, filling up the whole space, it seemed to me, with no light from the hallway showing behind her. I figured she was about the most mountain-like human being I'd ever seen, or maybe hill-like, with ridges and rolling fields. And maybe I thought that because she was wearing a green dress, so it looked even more like hills, how the green swelled around her middle and arms. And I'm sure about the green dress because it's what she always wore to school.

"Whoa!" Eric Radabaugh was the first one to start up talking, of course. And Wayne Wilson wasn't far behind.

"Man, is the circus in town?" Wayne whispered. Only his whisper is about a hundred times louder than a normal person's regular voice.

I risked looking at the stranger's face to see how she took it. Her round cheeks twitched a bit, but those pale blue eyes stayed twinkling, like they were smiling, even though her mouth wasn't. So I figured she hadn't heard Eric and Wayne, because when they call me "freak girl" or "toughie" (and I guarantee they don't mean it in a good way) or "hillbilly," there's no way I can pretend I didn't hear.

"Can I help you?" Mrs. Smith asked, clearing her throat, like being hoarse was why she didn't say something before Eric and Wayne got to.

"I'm Lara." The girl's mouth joined her eyes in that smile. She glanced around the room, like she was giving each of us a little piece of her smile.

I looked down at my fingernails when I could tell the smile was getting to my row. Dirt was packed under the nails that weren't bit down to the finger. So I tried picking the dirt out. I don't go around dirty. Really I don't. But nails and ears, those are parts you forget about. At least I do. There's this picture of my mama in the bottom drawer of my daddy's dresser, underneath the magazines he doesn't want my brothers to look at. And it doesn't take but one look at that picture to know my mama never ever forgot about dirt under her fingernails.

"I'm sorry," Mrs. Smith said. "Laura ...?"

"Lara," the girl said, but not like she was mad or anything. "L-A-R-A."

"I see." But you could tell our teacher did not see. "Were you looking for someone?"

L-A-R-As smile got big enough to show us her tiny, white teeth. One of the front ones was missing, and that made her look stranger than fiction. She stayed there, standing in the exact center of the doorway.

Sometimes Mrs. Smith makes us do these exercises on describing characters when we write stories in class. Characterization, she calls it. She passes out papers that look like this:

___is the kind of person who___.

___is the kind of person who___.

___is the kind of person who___.

___is the kind of person who___.

___is the kind of person who___.

Then we fill in the blanks for all the characters in our stories. Well, my mind was filling in all the blanks like this:

Lara is the kind of person who changes the air in a classroom.

Lara is the kind of person who would be the only one left in Kansas if a tornado blew everybody else to Oz. (Mrs. Smith wouldn't like this one, though, because it's too long.)

Lara is the kind of person who nobody ever sees, even though she's the biggest thing in the room.

Lara is the kind of person who makes you feel almost normal.

Lara is the kind of person who you never forget.


Excerpted from Larger-than-life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall, Sarah Rubio. Copyright © 2016 Dandi A. Mackall. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1 Character, 1,
Chapter 2 The Beginning, 3,
Chapter 3 A Frozen Moment, 9,
Chapter 4 Villain, 15,
Chapter 5 Setting, 23,
Chapter 6 Dialogue, 35,
Chapter 7 Opposition, 45,
Chapter 8 Minor Characters, 53,
Chapter 9 Conflict, 63,
Chapter 10 Suspense, 73,
Chapter 11 Cliff-Hangers, 87,
Chapter 12 Twist, 97,
Chapter 13 Details, 107,
Chapter 14 Transition, 115,
Chapter 15 Rising Action, 119,
Chapter 16 Climax, 129,
Chapter 17 The Return of Climax, or Climax II, 137,
Chapter 18 Resolution, 147,
Acknowledgments, 159,
About the Author, 161,

What People are Saying About This

Nancy L. Bowers

Thanks again for agreeing to be our keynote author for the Northern Kentucky Book Fest 2014! Our teachers still use Larger-Than-Life Lara in their language arts programs.

Denver Post

Laney’s account of Lara’s persecution refreshes middle readers on literary devices and elementary writing, and, not incidentally, tutors about compassion—a sensibility too often absent from society.

Michele Winship

We all still rave about your amazing talk and that wonderful book, Larger-Than-Life Lara. So many of our language arts teachers are using it to teach writing. Others use it teach about bullying. And the kids never feel like we’re preaching, so they don’t tune us out.

Bill Van Jura

I had the privilege to hear you today at CCC as part of the Martha Holden Jennings Lecture Series. I not only enjoyed hearing all your stories, but reading them as well, as I purchased several of the books you made available. How I wish we could get copies of Larger-Than-Life Lara for all of our students!

The Blue Marble Childrens Bookstore Tish

Everyone still loves Larger-Than-Life Lara. We could have sold out over and over with paper. Schools need paperbacks. Peter and I still claim that one as a huge favorite.

Christine Kohler

Larger-Than-Life Lara is the most excellent book for teaching the structure of a story in a classroom. I say this from experience as a former middle school and high school English teacher, and a writing instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature for almost a decade.

Mrs. Woll

I want to tell you what an amazing book Larger-than-Life-Lara is. I have used this book with my fifth graders. It has been a great tool not only to teach parts of a story but also to open discussion on bullying. Your characters each are unique, and help build a story that children will hold onto for the rest of their lives. Thank you for writing a modern-day classic. I believe every library should have more than one copy available for their patrons. . . . Thanks again for writing one of the best books I have ever read to my students.

Vikki Gremel

So glad to finally get you here as featured author in Nebraska in 2014! Our “scouts” have raved about your Edgar winning book. And we all love Larger-than-Life-Lara.


Here comes Lara, a new girl in Laney’s fourth-grade class. She’s the largest kid Laney’s ever seen and even requires a special desk. Now Lara will be the one who is picked on and teased instead of Laney, right? Lara surprises everyone though. Through chapters that give instructions for writing a story, Laney not only tells Lara’s story, but also reveals her own troubled life. Touching and insightful, this book will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.

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Larger-Than-Life Lara 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book I wish every kid would read---every bully, every person ever bullied in school, and all the kids who watch bullying , but don't step in. I laughed out loud at the Narrator's matter -of-fact storytelling. And then on the next page, I round myself crying and wishing I could be half the person Lara is. I'm giving this book to all of my children's teachers. It should be required reading!
JenniferFlanders 8 months ago
Several family members read Dandi Daley Mackall’s Just Sayin’ in April and loved it. So when I spotted Larger-Than-Life Lara , I ordered it right away and read it aloud to my children over the course of a week. My husband got in on the book a couple chapters in and was as eager as our children to hear how the story unfolded. The story centers on Lara, the title character, who is the object of intense bullying at her new school. Yet she forgives freely and treats her attackers with kindness and compassion. The story is told from the perspective of one of Lara’s classmates. With chapters such as Setting, Dialogue, Conflict, Suspense, and Cliff Hanger, readers learn about what makes a good story even as they’re reading one. Mackall is such an imaginative storyteller; she has quickly become one of my new favorite authors. I’ve already ordered a third of the nearly 500 books to her credit.
abbylibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Laney Grafton gets picked on at school. She doesn't have many friends and her brothers push her around at home. But still, Laney knows she has it better than Lara. Lara is the new student at Paris Elementary and she is truly larger-than-life. Lara is the fattest kid her classmates have ever seen. And as you can imagine, this does not make life easy for Lara. She's the butt of everyone's jokes, although she greets everyone with a smile and doesn't let their teasing phase her... until one day something horrible happens... and the kids at Paris Elementary will never be the same. A realistic look at bullying and told with a fresh voice. Grades 3+.
Nicnac63 More than 1 year ago
What an adorable book! The voice is unique, the message is powerful, and the main character is fun and genuine. Laney Grafton is a roughneck ten-year-old with a hard life, and the narrator of this story. This book is her own first-person storytelling after learning the ins and outs of writing a book from her teacher. The chapter titles explain the various parts of storytelling, such as Character, Setting, Conflict, etc, all while revealing what happens when a new student joins Laney’s classroom. Lara Phelps is a large girl. She fills up the doorway, tires easily, and has a special desk brought in because of her size. Laney and her classmates have never seen anyone so heavy, not their age anyway, and some give her the nickname Larger-Than-Life Lara. Laney walks the reader through the class play, rehearsals, and horrible bullying that takes place. The mean kids are relentless with their hateful remarks and mocking. What surprises Laney the most is how Lara smiles through the adversity. There are great lessons in this story—both for bullies and their victims. Though the message is powerful, it is written with a mix of humor and sting. 5 stars! Cover: Okay Title: Love it Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers Pages: 176 I received a complimentary copy from TyndaleBlogNetwork.
Susanosb More than 1 year ago
Larger-than-Life Lara is an excellent book for children, preteens, and teens. There is much bulling going on in our society today in the grade schools, junior highs, and high schools. Dandi Mackall deals with this issue in a most unusual way. The new girl, Lara, transforms her entire class and hopefully will also transform the reader as she shows kindness in return for meanness. Hopefully young people will see themselves in this book and learn to deal with their classmates, who seem different, or have disabilities, in a more positive manner.
AlyssaRossBlog More than 1 year ago
This is an exceptional story for young readers. Told by a 10 year old, this story is short and easy to read, plus the characters are relatable for children around that age group. This book covers a very important topic in today’s world, bullying. You see information about it everywhere, and at times it feels like we are bombarded with how to handle the bullying going on today. This book takes a unique approach to this subject. Telling the story of how a new girl got bullied, from the view point of a girl who used to get picked on. Along with teaching students the parts of a story and why they are important, it also teaches the different types of words and how they are used. Some of the important examples are adjectives and suspense. Putting these terms in words children today will understand, within a story they can relate to and will want to read, makes this book a wonderful way for children to learn. I would recommend this book for any child in school, and parents of those children. I feel that this is an important story that could help many kids. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House for this review. All opinions are my own*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Laney Grafton, a nearly 10-year-old 4th grader at an elementary school in Paris, Missouri is writing a story, that's not about her life, so she claims, but about 'Larger-than-Life-Lara'. Lara Phelps is a new kid in the fourth grade and she quickly becomes the target for some mean jokes due to her being at least 300 pounds, hence the name, ¿Larger-Than-Life¿. Laney used to be teased, but now that Lara's here, she's been forgotten. While Laney feels bad for Lara, she¿s glad she¿s no longer picked on because her life at home is difficult enough and though the story is ¿not about Laney,¿ we find out a great deal about her life, too. There are incidences of a drunk and abusive father, a memory of a mother who ran away, and then there¿s Laney having to do the work around the house and keep her brothers from killing each other. As the story unfolds, we find that Lara is very intuitive, genuinely happy, and most of all, very forgiving. She retaliates against the bullying, not with meanness, but with simple and sweet poetry. She never stops smiling. 'She's the kind of person you never forget'. The book is written from Laney Grafton¿s point of view and is supposed to seem to be written by Laney herself. Some of the titles of the chapters include Character, Conflict, Rising Action, and Climax. Laney is describing how to write a story while doing just that. I loved reading the book, and actually did so in just a couple of hours. I found that I was trying to put myself in the situations and I realized that the issues in this book are definitely issues of which kids of this age can relate. These issues include poverty, neglect, and bullying, along with others. There were times that I thought there might be a little too much going on in the book, with Lara¿s story, Laney¿s story, and the explanation of how to write a story all intertwining. Overall, I do recommend this book to children of this age and it could also be of great use in a writing classroom.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Kids and teachers alike will love this book!Larger-Than-Life Lara grabbed me on the first page and I couldn't put it down until the last page. I feel like I've know every one of these characters. Author, Dandi Mackall, has woven a story with a strong voice, engaging characters, and a larger- than-life heroin who rises above the cruelty of bullies. By the end of the book the reader not only walks away with a wider view of life, but also will have learned all the parts of a well writen story. This is a must read! If kid's books could be on Oprah, this would be on the top of her book club list.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a sensitive, insightful novel that makes readers evaluate their own actions. The narrator reminds me of of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this book!