Saturday, July 23, 2011

Kid Konnection: Middle School - The Worst Years of My Life

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you a very fun middle grade book about... what else? The horrors of middle school!

Summary: Rafe Khatchadorian has enough problems at home without throwing his first year of middle school into the mix. Luckily, he's got an ace plan for the best year ever, if only he can pull it off: With his best friend Leonardo the Silent awarding him points, Rafe tries to break every rule in his school's oppressive Code of Conduct. Chewing gum in class-5,000 points! Running in the hallway-10,000 points! Pulling the fire alarm-50,000 points! But when Rafe's game starts to catch up with him, he'll have to decide if winning is all that matters, or if he's finally ready to face the rules, bullies, and truths he's been avoiding.

Blockbuster author James Patterson delivers a genuinely hilarious-and surprisingly poignant-story of a wildly imaginative, one-of-kind kid that you won't soon forget. -- Little Brown

When I heard that the very successful author James Patterson had written the first book in a new middle grade graphic novel series called MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE, I admit that my curiosity was piqued. (In all fairness, the book cannot be entirely credited to Mr. Patterson. It's also written by Chris Tebbetts and illustrated by Laura Park.) First of all, Booking Daughter just completed her first year of middle school and I thought she might relate to the book. But most importantly, I wanted to read MIDDLE SCHOOL because I believe that graphic novels are a great way to get kids reading and I wanted to see what Mr. Patterson had to offer.

Many of you probably know this already, but Mr. Patterson is is a huge proponent on the importance of getting kids to read. So much so that he created, a website devoted to helping parents, teachers, and kids find books that kids are guaranteed to "gobble up!" I absolutely adore this website and have found it to be a valuable resource for finding books for kids of all ages.

Anyway, back to my thoughts about the book... I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORSE YEARS OF MY LIFE. It had all of the elements which will make it a great book for early middle grade readers. It was very, very funny and had great illustrations, but it also touched upon some very relevant issues that middle school kids face. I think middle school is a complicated time with loads of life changes; and I think MIDDLE SCHOOL will help many kids realize that they aren't alone.

Rafe is just a fantastic character and I absolutely loved him; however, I also found that my heart just broke for him over and over again. Rafe is not only starting a new middle school (and if you remember middle school at all, I'm sure you remember how scary it was!), but he also feels like he's doing it all alone. He doesn't have any real friends and he immediately experiences some bullying. Rafe's also not the best student and he's bored by all of the school rules. In addition, his home life isn't exactly optimal. He has a mom who works two jobs to support the family; and as a result, doesn't have a lot of time to spend with Rafe and his sister. And he has a future step-dad who is a mean, lazy bum.

So to make things interesting, Rafe and his only "friend" Leo decide to create a game to make school more interesting. The problem is that Rafe earns points in the game by breaking all of the rules and ultimately getting punished. When Rafe realizes that his fun and games might lead to more serious consequences, he is forced to evaluate his behavior along with some other major issues that he's been avoiding.

MIDDLE SCHOOL is just a treat with all of it's adorable sketches. It's cute and funny and I have no doubt that kids will relate (at least in part) to Rafe. While most kids aren't in the same situation as Rafe, they will find that they do have many things in common with him. For example, Rafe shows kids that it's normal to have insecure feelings about girls, school, and friends. And he also shows that kids aren't alone with having parent, teacher, and step-parent problems. While Rafe turned his insecurities into negative behavior, he ultimately learned some very important messages. And that's what I hope kids will take away from this story -- that there are positive ways to deal with things and life is never hopeless.

There is a fun interactive website devoted to MIDDLE SCHOOL that I think kids (and parents) will appreciate. You can get an idea of the creative illustrations that appear in the book as well as some information on the characters. You can also download the first 20 chapters for free! There are also lots of activities including a comic creator, a sound effects board, and a place to share your worst middle grade story. And when you are there, make sure you check out the Bully Button because Little Brown Young Readers is making a donation to Stomp Out Bullying for every click. I just love how this website complements the book and I have a feeling that even the most reluctant readers will be drawn to this story and the supplemental material.

One of my favorite things about this book is that it has a fantastic educator's guide. The guide includes curriculum connections for English/language arts, math, art and social studies. In addition, there is also a section for thematic connections which covers topics including family relationships, making choices, motivation, adversity, and bullying. In addition to these questions, there is a ten question discussion guide. Some of the questions that most stood out to me deal with ethical considerations such as lying, teacher/student relations, and Rafe's confrontations. Not only is the book excellent for use in the classroom, but it is also a great pick for tween book clubs.

I thoroughly enjoyed MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE. I highly recommend it to young middle-grade readers and especially those reluctant ones!

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!


Beth F said...

How great that Patterson has branched out into MG books. I love the idea of the website and all the extra materials.

BTW: I added a link, but it hasn't shown up. If it doesn't, let me know and I'll add it again.

bermudaonion said...

I've seen this book around and wondered about it. I didn't realize it was a graphic novel. I bet kids will love it.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

The website sounds great! I think it's a fun new trend that ya and mg books are getting tied to interactive web sites.

Melissa Taylor said...

I lent this book before I read it to a neighbor's son - now I can't wait to get it back. :)

Mrs. Juska said...

The link to the educator's guide does not work. I really looked forward to see what was recommended for the book!

Julie P. said...

Mrs. Juska,

I just tested the link and it worked for me. I right clicked and opened it in a new tab. Another option is to go the book's website on the publisher page/Hachette and follow that link.