Saturday, September 05, 2015

Notebook novels that didn't quite work for me

24795901Swaab, Neil. The Secrets to Ruling the School (Without Even Trying)
September 1st 2015 by Amulet Books
E ARC from

Max is a "life coach" at his middle school. His office is (of course) in an abandoned restroom, and his assistant is only shown as feet under the bathroom stall door, because he's lactose intolerant. Max has corned a new kid (you, presumably, given the way the text is written) and is trying to talk him into embracing all sorts of mayhem so that "you" can be cool. This includes everything from turning the school into your own personal ATM by fleecing classmates to telling lies to engineering a puke-a-thon with the janitors special fake vomit recipe to defacing statues of the principal. Why? Max has an axe to grind due to his personal relationship to a school staff member.
Strengths: This is a humorous notebook novel. Swaab's pictures are appealing. I could buy eight copies of this, and none of them would ever be on the shelf.
Weaknesses: This mean spirited at best, and I am not going to buy a copy. I want my students to think that bilking others out of money is okay? I want them to know the best ways to tell lies? Sure, some of this has been covered in other books, but not with the complete lack of moral compass that this portrays. I was disturbed by this.
What I really think: I'm not averse to notebook novels. I'm not averse to humorous books about students getting the best of teachers and staff. But this crossed a line, somehow.

24397048Mansbach, Adam. Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My ***
September 8th 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Franklin Isaac Saturday has an extra credit assignment for history class. Figuring that his teacher will not actually read the letter he writes to Benjamin Franklin, he fills it with snarky, embarrassing details, but does decorate it with an antique stamp from his stepfather's collection, and well as a wax seal. Too embarrassed to read the letter, he mails it to keep it out of the clutches of classmates... and gets a reply from Ben Franklin himself! With the help of his crush, Claire Wazandae, he continues to write to Franklin and tries to share information with him that might be helpful to Franklin and the young United States. Will Ike and Claire change the course of history, and perhaps even have the sandwich renamed after themselves? And more importantly, will Ike get the girl?
Strengths: This looks like a notebook novel, and also has a historical tie in, so I can see lots of adults buying this for children, thinking that it will be a good mix of humor appealing to middle graders and historical fact.
Weaknesses: Again, this crossed a line. I do not see this as a book that is appropriate to include in a middle school or elementary collection. Not only does Ike go to a party and get drunk enough to throw up, he describes "jungle juice" to Franklin-- a drink children make by skimming off small bits of alcohol from a variety of bottles so their parents don't notice the loss. Also, Ben Franklin's more... lurid tendencies concerning drink and women are described. Luckily, they are described in language archaic and convoluted enough that struggling readers who are attracted to notebook novels will not be able to understand it. Aside from the questionable content, I will not be purchasing this because it would be very difficult for my struggling readers to understand the portions "written" by Franklin.

There's giving kids pop tarts for breakfast, and then there's letting them drink gin. This is gin.

What I really think: Ah. Now I understand. The other literary efforts of this author include a book that utilizes a word I detest as a source of inappropriate humor.

Repeat to self: Publishing is about making money, not providing literature that is appealing and well written.

Tashjian, Janet and Jake. Einstein the Class Hamster Saves the Library
September 1st 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In this third book in the series, Einstein is upset because the principal closes down the school library because the town has budget problems. He talks to Ned, a student in Ms. Moreno's class, about what could be done to reopen the library. The students talk about bake sales, and even manage to raise a few hundred dollars, but it's still not enough. After spending time at Ms. Moreno's home and watching a shopping channel to which the teacher is addicted (she falls asleep in school because she stays up so late watching and buying), Einstein helps convince her that she might save the library by having a garage sale of all of the strange things she has bought. There is a rule that once the library is closed, it can't be reopened, but by letting the principal's favorite snake, Twinkles, into the library tricks the principal into opening up the library to rescue him. The other teachers pitch in to buy new furnishing and books for the library, and the heart of the school is back in business.
Strengths: My struggling and reluctant 6th graders really enjoy Einstein, especially since this has pictures in it. It doesn't hurt that the books are fun and a bit goofy. I really enjoy all of Janet Tashjian's books, and the My Life as a Book series is a great one for middle school
Weaknesses: This shows a lack of understanding about how school libraries are funded, and I don't know if showing a library that is able to be reopened because of a garage sale and teachers funding the library is really... helpful. When school libraries are closed, it is usually because of the significant cost of the librarian. Often, the librarians are cut, but the facilities remain open with an aid, and that is less than ideal for everyone.
What I really think: I wanted to like this one, but I think it sends a confusing message.

25241450Michaels, Anne. The Adventures of Miss Petitfour
November 10th 2015 by Tundra Books
E ARC from

This book wasn't what I needed, either. It was charmingly illustrated, but so sweet and twee that my teeth ached.

"The magical adventures of an eccentric Mary Poppins-esque heroine and her flying feline charges, sure to charm readers big and small. The first book for children by an internationally acclaimed novelist and poet.

     Miss Petitfour enjoys having adventures that are "just the right size - fitting into a single, magical day." She is an expert at baking and eating fancy iced cakes, and her favorite mode of travel is par avion. On windy days, she takes her sixteen cats out for an airing: Minky, Misty, Taffy, Purrsia, Pirate, Mustard, Moutarde, Hemdela, Earring, Grigorovitch, Clasby, Captain Captain, Captain Catkin, Captain Cothespin, Your Shyness and Sizzles. With the aid of her favorite tea party tablecloth as a makeshift balloon, Miss Petitfour and her charges fly over her village, having many little adventures along the way. Join Miss Petitfour and her equally eccentric felines on five magical outings -- a search for marmalade, to a spring jumble sale, on a quest for "birthday cheddar", the retrieval of a lost rare stamp and as they compete in the village's annual Festooning Festival. A whimsical, beautifully illustrated collection of tales that celebrates language, storytelling and small pleasures, especially the edible kind!"


  1. I have seen a few of these and although they look promising, I share in many of your concerns. Thanks for the nice, tidy overview as notebook type novels are usually a big hit with reluctant readers.

  2. I so agree with you on the Ben Franklin book...and that Jungle Juice was described as making the girls lose it or something like that - um no.