Akeelah Anderson attends Crenshaw Middle School, a predominantly black school in South Los Angeles. Akeelah is a bright 11-year-old and never makes errors on her spelling tests and doesn't really seem to fit in. She lives with her widowed mother, Tanya, her three siblings Kiana, Devon, and Terrence, and her infant niece. Her principal, Mr. Welch and her teacher, Mrs. Cross, recommend her to sign up for the Crenshaw Schoolwide Spelling Bee, which she wins easily by spelling "fanciful". After that, Dr. Joshua Larabee, a visiting English professor and Mr. Welch's college friend, tests her with some difficult words and finds that she has the potential to reach the Scripps National Spelling Bee.