Middle School: Get Me Out of Here! (James Patterson)

The more I think about it, the more sense it makes that James Patterson would venture into middle school territory. This is, after all, one of the scariest and more perplexing places on earth. 

In his first book of this series, Rafe Khatchadorian managed so survive his 6th grade year at Hills Village Middle. Barely. My favorite piece was that the skills Rafe uses (humorously...even teasingly) to cope during a hard year are the very traits that are part of who he is meant to be in life. In that way, the Middle School books are perfect for showing just how important these years are. This IS when kids are beginning to discover the things about themselves that they hate, sure, but more importantly, they are beginning to uncover the things about themselves that they like. 

In this second installment, Rafe is in art school and loving it. Finally he is in a place where he feel comfortable just being him! Then, of course, because this is a school and there are other kids involved, the bullying and misunderstanding and rule-breaking begins...and all from quite unexpected sources. 

I was a smidge bored with this one the first half because it seemed to be following the same exact pattern as the first book. Misfit kid makes up game as a coping mechanism, which will obviously land him in trouble with his peers as well as the powers-that-be in his school.

Patterson is better than this was my analytical echo throughout every chapter. About two thirds into it, however, things got good quick. My hope for readers is that they'll not be bored by the repetition so long that they lose interest before they hit the hook. Interesting format, though it smells similar to Andrew Clements's typical fiction setup. 

The only thing still driving me nuts about this series is how in the world to pronounce the main character's name. Is it Rahhhf, Raf or Rafey (a as in bat), Raf or Rafey (a as in rake), what?

Even the Google doesn't know.

I haven't been this confused since reading the first three Harry Potters and pronouncing Hermione as (Hermeeeown). {hanging my head in shame}

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)


Born "with water on the brain," 14 year old Junior is seizure-prone and poor as dirt. Here he tells the story of life on his Spokane Indian reservation, in all its shocking and gut-wrenching glory. Junior's physical issues and desire for a different life cause him to be something of a target on the "rez," and before long he finds himself enrolled at Reardan, the closest mostly white high school. Violence, cruelty, alcoholism, racism, and tragedy are normal daily occurrences for Junior; though his voice is laden with wit and charm, still the book is peppered with negative stereotypes about the Native American culture.

The oppressive poverty is the worst, and the root of all the other issues. Junior's take:

"It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it. Poverty doesn't give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor."  (pg. 13)

Though it is overrun with stereotypes, the difference for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is that as the narrator, Junior is a funny yet deeply self-reflective Native American. He describes experiences with his culture that cannot be disputed by those of another race. Another consideration is that through use of Junior’s very strong, specific voice, these stereotypes are brought to light to reveal their complex combination of truth and utter ridiculousness.

Because it is so heavy laden with negative stereotypes, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian may at first seem a risk to young readers in promoting the very untrue notion that Native Americans are inferior to other ethnicities. Because of the way Alexie tells Junior’s story, the novel does more good than harm in the realm of typecasts. Awareness of the stereotypes and disputing the untruths promotes the integrity of the Native American culture. Young readers without experience in or with the Native American culture will be surprised at what Junior has to say about his life, but one of the most essential qualities of great literature is that it brings awareness to and appreciation of cultures different from our own. 

School of Fear (Gitty Daneshvari)

School of Fear is one of the (many, many, MANY) books I have purchased at my school book fair over recent years. Published in 2009, this story is about 4 students who have terribly ferocious fears of...something. Bugs, dying, tight quarters, and deep water are among the paralyzing fears of these 12 year old kids. In an act of desperation and desire to be free of their children's paranoias, their parents send them away to an exclusive school designed entirely for curing phobic children of their fears.

I liked the vocabulary exposure readers get in this book. I like the adventure, even if it does get a bit wonky at times. I love the sarcasm. I like the characters a lot, and suspect that many children today can identify with this exaggerated form of unique fears. It has favorable reviews from reputable school library book reviewers, but take a look at the cover. What do you notice?


I am concerned about the lack of cultural diversity in the book. Granted, ethnic diversity just for the sake of diversity is just as shallow as no diversity at all...but that is a post for another day.

It's a great piece to be included in a school library, and would be especially satisfying to Lemony Snicket fans.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney)

My students are obsessed with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. At no less than 5 requests every single day, these items are hot commodities in my school library. At the end of the year I was finally able to wrangle the first installment to see for myself just what all the fuss is about.

The very first observation I had about this book was that Greg Heffley is a little jerk. He's narcissistic, rude to his parents, completely self-absorbed, and the most inconsiderate, selfish "friend" any kid could ever have. But, you know what? A lot of upper elementary/middle school boys are just like Greg Heffley. I suppose at the end of the say, it's all a part of their emotional development and that they are who they are at this stage for a reason. Still. He might be funny, but he's still a little tool.

And he is most definitely funny. Greg Heffley makes some pretty witty observations about the social order in schools that I think most educators and maybe even parents miss out on. There is a tinge of a "bully or be bullied" theme which I definitely believe is part of the under-the-table social interactions between students. Another observation I have is that the books are 5th grade level readers, which I think is overestimating a bit. These books are not exactly solid 5th grade level material. There are illustrative comics interspersed throughout, which make it even more popular with kids. These kiddos do love their graphic novels (sigh)...

Overall, it's a good set to have in the school library. As for me, I'm done with you, Greg Heffley. But I like that my kids like you, so maybe you were worth my time after all.

The Sea of Monsters (Rick Riordan)

This is the second installment in the Percy Jackson series. Percy's friend Groves is in big trouble, and it will take everything he and Annabeth can do to save both their friend and all of Camp Half-blood.

The camp is in utter chaos when one of their long-standing defenses begins to fail. Everyone will be killed unless Percy and Annabeth can retrieve the golden fleece from Polyphemos (a giant Cyclops), which just happens to be in the middle of the Sea of Monsters (commonly known as the Bermuda Triangle). One disaster after another awaits them in this portion of the sea, but it is their friendship that keeps them pressing on. A new characters introduced in this book is Tyson, a young Cyclops. It is difficult to determine whether he is friend or foe, and as Percy figures that out, he reveals some interesting pieces of his character and his relationship with Annabeth.