‘Abbott Elementary’ Brilliantly Taps Into Elementary School Nostalgia

Remember the Scholastic Book Fair? What about “Smencils,” the pencils with odors of bubble gum, cherries, and chocolate? Can you still feel calluses on your hands from using the monkey bars all the way back in third grade? If so, the most recent episode of Abbott Elementary is for you.

It’s been a while since we’ve been graced with a new episode of Quinta Brunson’s hilarious sitcom. But the winter break hiatus is over, and Abbott is back and better than ever. Making matters even better, this week’s episode, “Book-a-Thon,” tapped into a forgotten memory from (hopefully) most of our childhoods: the book-reading competition, in which the class who reads the most books is rewarded with a pizza party.

When I was in elementary school, we didn’t always get a pizza party as a prize—sometimes it was an ice cream party, with those tiny little tubs of the most delicious ice cream you’ve ever tasted dolloped with Redi-Whip and sprinkles from Dollar General. There was also the yearlong reading challenge, for which you’d win a Pizza Hut certificate after reading a certain number of books; and after the school year wrapped, the library would chip in with a summer program full of prizes galore. Ugh, why can’t we have these reading competitions for adults? Goodreads isn’t cutting it.

Nevertheless, when it came to the reading competition, the third or fourth graders almost always won. I won when I was in third grade. It was glorious. The first and second graders are far too behind in the reading world, and the fifth graders are too cool for school at that point. Such is the case in Abbott Elementary, too, where Melissa’s (Lisa Ann Walter) mostly third grade class (there are a few second graders, but her third graders are killer) consistently excels in the challenge.

Melissa’s won the “belt” (a prize for the teacher to show off, decked out in pizza and book pins) for the past few years, and she’s not looking to hand off the title any time soon. Still, the always-persistent Janine (Brunson) insists that she’ll be taking the title this year. Rolling carts of books from the library to her classroom (look closely to spot Hair Love, a book based on the Oscar-winning short of the same name), Janine attempts to steal the belt away from Melissa. We’ll see about that.

The rest of the school has always enabled Melissa’s class to win—that’s why third grade was always in first place!—so naturally, she’s enraged by Janine’s audacity. She asks her students to read during recess and while falling asleep at night; hell, they can buy some audio books! (Not sure if that counts as reading.) In the end, it really doesn’t matter who wins: The whole conflict brought us right back to elementary school, sitting in tiny chairs while cracking out the library copy Diary of a Wimpy Kid with Cheez-It crumbs crusted into the binding. You’ll be too distracted reminiscing to even care about Melissa and Janine’s conflict.

Abbott Elementary has always excelled at feeling so true to life, but this episode proved it’s a real nostalgia grabber, too. Maybe in the future, we’ll see kids trading cat-shaped erasers on the playground. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Scholastic Book Fair soon tears into town, sending Janine into a frenzied panic about her kids constantly leaving to check out what’s on sale.

Whatever Abbott comes up with next, it’ll likely rekindle our nostalgia for elementary school more than any “Only ’90s/’00s kids will remember” post ever could.

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