Tuesday, July 12, 2011

MIDDLE SCHOOL- THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE by James Patterson and Chris Tebbits

On Friday I ran to the grocery store to buy dog food. And for some reason, there is a book display on the end of the dog food rack. And of course I had to stop and look. Which is, of course, very dangerous for someone who is not supposed to be spending any money on books. Anyway, there was this book by James Patterson. And even though it specifically said MIDDLE SCHOOL in the title, and even though am not going to be teaching middle school in the fall, and even though I have read way too much YA this summer, I picked it up. And about fifteen minutes later I remembered that I had run to the store to buy dog food because we were completely out. So then I had to buy the book because I didn't want the dogs to starve to death.

Rafe Khatchadorian is a sixth grader at Hills Village Middle School. During the principal's back to school read aloud of the HVMS Code of Conduct, Rafe decides he will make history by attempting to break every. single. one. He determines that there are 112 rules in the handbook. He assigns points to each one. Some, such as talking in class or chewing gum, are categorized as easy, and are worth less points. Others, such as pulling the fire alarm (which Rafe does the first day) fall into the advanced category, and are worth lots more points. He calls his project "Operation R.A.F.E." (Rules. Aren't. For. Everyone.) and keeps track of his points in a notebook illustrated by his best friend, Leonardo the Silent.

This book belongs in a basket with WIMPY KID and ORIGAMI YODA. There's plenty to draw the attention of the "not yet thrilled with reading set." The plot is a little bit racy, and has lots and lots of black line, humorously labeled illustrations. At the same time, there is some complexity to the characters and plot. Rafe is not a typical flat "bad kid." He cares about other people-- in fact one of the first rules of OPERATION R.A.F.E. is that none of his pranks can injure anyone. He also cares about disappointing his mom, and tries several times throughout the book to reform.

There are a couple of things about this book that I think might be a little confusing to kids, especially kids who are not particularly good readers. First, there are several twists involving Rafe's friend, Leonardo. I'm not sure that struggling readers would totally get these twists without a little extra support. Also, when Rafe gets in trouble and has to face an authority figure, he imagines himself meeting with a kind of alter ego, e.g. "The Dragon Lady" or "The Lizard King." Those chapters might be a little confusing, unless someone kind of walked them through the first one. Kids who aren't especially strong readers might benefit from just a little support in these areas.

A few years ago, I heard James Patterson speak at a conference, right after MAXIMUM RIDE had come out. He talked about how his interests as an author had shifted when his son got to middle school and stopped reading. He was trying to find books and write books that would be interesting to kids like his son, who didn't like to read. I think he has definitely done that with MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE. It's definitely going to make the rounds in middle school, and maybe even some intermediate grade classrooms!

1 comment:

Kyle said...

A young friend of mine is entering middle school this year, and HE LOVED it.