Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kowitt, H. N. The Loser List. Scholastic, 2011. 207 pages with frequent illustrations. ISBN 13: 978-0-545-24004-8. This book is for grades 3 to 7, or ages 8 to 12, depending on reading level (3 stars out of 4).

Boys are back. In the tweener publishing world’s post-Wimpy Kid, “mangafied,” graphic world of multimedia interfaced reading, in which kids are watching the book’s teaser video on YouTube and playing games and chatting on the book’s website before they even read it, someone finally figured out what eight-to-twelve-year-old boys like. Mix together two teaspoonfuls of wry, pre-adolescent humor and innocent wisdom born of charming naiveté, a couple of tablespoons of embarrassment and guilt from being at an awkward age, a smattering of humorous, simplistic drawings, a quarter cup of bully (occasionally complete with his or her posse), and 2 cups of near misses in which the unlikely hero almost gets beaten up, expelled, grounded, or all of the above. Optional ingredients include half a teaspoon of annoying siblings and a dash of lose-your-best-friend-by-not-being-true-to-yourself. The Loser List by H. N. Kowitt is another unspectacular but appealing example of what boys transitioning from Captain Underpants to the high-low group including Bluford High and/or Orca novels. For the record, I am not denying girls’ interest in this sub-genre, and Dork Diaries does circulate well, but this type of hybrid novel is particularly appealing to boys.

Danny Shine is not looking for trouble, he is just trying to fly under the radar and finish 7th grade without drawing too much attention to his geekiness or his obsession with comic books and drawing macabre images. But when bully Chantal Davis tries to extort Danny’s favorite drawing pen, his coveted twelve dollar T-360, he must defend himself, regardless of the personal cost: “Chantal’s locker is crammed with stuff people have ‘donated.’ Well, I’d already given plenty to the Chantal Davis Fund, and I didn’t feel like making another contribution” (4). As punishment, Chantal puts Danny and best friend Jasper on the Loser List in the girls’ bathroom, which ultimately leads Danny to inadvertently start a food fight, annoy his secret crush Asia O’Neill, and antagonize Gerald Ford Middle School’s other bully, Axl Ryan. When Danny is sent to detention for another offense, Axl is waiting to repay him for his food fight humiliation: “Axl rolled up his shirtsleeves, showing a slice of homemade Sharpie tattoo. In spite of my terror, the artist in me was curious. Did Axl draw it himself? I stretched to get a better look” (55). Danny may be able to use his artistic ability to save him from Axl and his friends, the Skulls, but Danny knows that an unholy alliance can lead to trouble far greater than an occasional jab because of his appearance on the Loser List.

I am still enjoying this recent rash of hybrid, doodle-enhanced novels. Ms. Kowitt’s twist, bulleted, humorous descriptions and drawings of new characters, is both cute and current: that is the way much of young America encounters, digests, and assimilates information. In a world in which even the book is a toy with a screen, buttons, lights, and Internet access, someone has to write books for the Digital Native Generation, complete with graphics, notes, and narration neatly merged together into one cohesive package. The Loser List by H. N. Kowitt is one such package, not all that unique, but just fine for its audience.

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