Monday, February 28, 2022

MMGM-Confessions of a Class Clown and Little Killers

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Costner, Ariana. Confessions of a Class Clown
March 2nd 2022 by Random House Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jack Reynolds is the sort of kid that teachers put in the back of the classroom-- surrounded by all of the good kids, as a buffer. He's always trying to make people laugh with him so that they don't laugh at him. He's even posted videos on MyTube, including one of him "T. Rex-ing" at the JoAnn Fabric store. (A location chosen because he didn't care if he got banned from the store. Which he did.) Lately, he's been palling around with Zane, a football player who is pretty popular. They've had some fun, but recently Zane hasn't seemed amused by Jack's antics. When he realizes that Zane is not going to participate in an epic talent show prank, he needs to find someone else to help him. Enter the Speed Friendshipping Club, run after school by the well meaning guidance counselor, Mr. Busby. Jack knows it is lame, but there ARE powdered sugar jelly doughnuts. He's a little surprised at some of the people who are there, including Mario, who is a whiz at hacky sack, Tasha, who has a shaved head and always wears funky crocheted hats, and Brielle, who is pretty and popular, and has a make up tutorial on MyTube that gets a lot of likes. Jack connects with each of them for different reasons, although making videos for MyTube always features largely. Mario's mother is very strict about his internet usage, so when he and Jack post a food fight style video that gets a lot of likes, not only does Jack have to take the video down, but his parents ground him from his smart phone until he can get his grade up in math. Tasha is good at math, and the two get along well as she helps him study for his next test, which he needs to ace in order to get a C for a final grade. Jack finds out that Tasha's older brother died of cancer, that her parents are divorcing, and that her mother is renovating their house because she wants to flip it. They get along, but Jack accidentally spills a red Slurpee all over a dress she wants to enter into a competition. Brielle isn't as confident as Jack orginally thinks, and he approaches her to help with videos when his phone is taken away, since she makes them as well. The two have a lot of fun at the mall, but when he tries to get back into Zane's good graces, he makes fun of her in a really mean way. Will Jack be able to enter the talent show with a decent act that doesn't involve squirting ketchup on anyone, and will he finally understand a bit more about what it means to be a good friend?

Like this author's My Life as a Potato, Confessions of a Class Clown has an strong cast of appealing, nuanced characters. In between chapters, which are from Jack's perspective, we get glimpses into the feelings of Mario, Tasha, and Brielle. This slowed down the story a little, but the characters were so interesting that I sort of wanted a whole book about each of them. The most fascinating part of the characters was that each had a public persona, but a private one that often didn't match at all. I think that is very common in middle school students, but is not something I have seen portrayed often in books. 

The middle school experience centers on two things: self-identity and friendships. Like Peirce's Big Nate, Jack is a lot more important in his own head. He's a slacker, doesn't do well in school, and isn't all that nice to people. He's not mean; he's just trying to figure out who he is, just like most middle school students. He's kindhearted, and means well, and when he stops his marshmallow throwing and video posting obsession long enough to listen to his classmates, he makes some friends and end up enjoying himself in the process. 

It's easy to write tragedy. Humor is harder. Humor, when it also encompasses essential middle grade concerns and delivers important life lessons while throwing in lines about having to groom gerbils, is a very difficult feat. Costner accomplishes this with finesse, and clearly understands the way that tween minds work. From having the right socks to convincing a teacher he's serious about her class, Jack's painful middle school journey will get a lot of likes from readers who enjoy Richardson's Stu Truly, Greenwald's Charlie Joe Jackson, and Uhrig's Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini

Collard, Sneed. Little Killers: The Ferocious Lives of Puny Predators
Published March 1st 2022 by Millbrook Press
Copy provided by the publisher

Tell eleven year olds that you have a book about "killers around us", and you'll have them hook. That's the first chapter of Collard's newest title about the most successful predators on Earth, some of which can't be seen with the naked eye. (Although, if you're talking to eleven year olds, it's best not to say "naked"!)

After a brief introduction about "puny predators", we meet several different kinds, from meat eaters to fatal flatforms to ant assassins. Each type of creature gets a full treatment, with a physical description, discussion of its reproductive habits, information about its destructive capabilities, and the impact that they have on their environments. There are fantastic photographs that are well captioned, sidebars with additional information, and definitions of some unfamiliar words. (I don't think polyphyletic will be one my students know!)

My favorite chapter was the one about ladybugs. Who knew how treacherous those cute little bugs were? I think swarms of ladybugs so large that they show up on weather radar might be my newest irrational fear!

There is a great author's note, complete glossary, a selection of resources for further study, and an index. I was a little surprised that Mr. Collard didn't take all of the photographs, since he did such great work with Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science and Survival  and Fire Birds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests, but microscopic critters are a bit trickier to photograph than Birds of Every Color

Because even these tiny predators are suffering from the effects of human impact on the planet, the last chapter covers things that young readers can do to help save the habitats of these creatures. Protecting native environment, stopping the spread of invasive species, and dealing with climate change are all topics that need more emphasis in books for children. 

If you have young readers who enjoyed Marrin's Little Mosters or Brownlee's Cute, Furry and Deadly: Diseases You Can Catch From Your Pets, or who liked the disease portions of Jarrow's Blood and Germs, this is a well done and helpful books to have on hand, and a great nonfiction accompaniment to Patton's Battle Bugs series, which has proven very popular with some of my reluctant readers. 


  1. I loved My Life as a Potato, and I think I will really like Confessions of a Class Clown. I also happen to really like books about odd creatures, so Little Killers sounds pretty interesting to me. Thanks for telling me about both of these.

  2. I read one of the Charlie Joe Jackson's at your recommendation and Jack Reynolds does sound like the same kind of boy. I am always glad I went to a girls' school from 7-9 when boys were at their most unappealing. When I went back to public school, we were tracked so at least the obnoxious boys were smart! I do agree that humor is hard to do and many authors who think they write funny books are wrong! I learned that when I was a romance editor, also that I really dislike slapstick humor.

    Re ladybugs, I have found about ten in my home office over the last month. I guess that is an innocuous infestation but I still don't like it!

  3. Humor is difficult to write, but it sounds like the author did very well. Love the title and would be drawn to checking out the book. Your review was very insightful and reminds me of the class clowns in Jr High. Annoying!

    My nephew will soon be five and obsessed with bugs. He would love a book like Little Killers, but it looks a little old for him. I am always searching for good books about bugs for him. Will book mark and check further. Thanks for sharing!