This summer, my soon-to-be middle schooler lodged a complaint: “Why is it that so many books talk about how awful middle school is?”
I took a look at his bookshelf and have to admit, it’s true.
I didn’t want to admit that since middle school can be pretty miserable in real life, it’s a relatable topic for kids and easier to laugh at than cry with – I want him to look forward to middle school, after all! So we talked about what is happening in the books he’s read, and how the real meat of the story is in how the main character conquers his fears, or overcomes a huge challenge, or maybe even learns something and grows up just a bit.
So while I look for more books for him where middle school is just completely awesome (and I’ll keep on looking because he doesn’t care for fantasy), I want to share two really fantastic books for your middle-schooler – miserable experience and all.
My first pick is The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall. Arthur Owens, a regular kid in a not bad (but not very good) neighborhood throws a brick at “the Junk Man” – an older man who wanders the neighborhood with a grocery card, picking cardboard, old glass and other things from people’s garbage cans. So the big question is: Why?
While the Judge has every intent of coming down hard on Arthur, the Junk Man (a.k.a. James Hampton) speaks to the judge, and asks instead that the punishment be helping him collect junk on the weekends until his time is served – all 120 hours of it. While better than being thrown in juvie, Arthur is less than excited about the task and unsure of what it will involve. When he arrives for his first day of work, he finds a locked garage, Mr. Hampton’s shopping cart and a list on a piece of cardboard detailing the “Seven Most Important Things” – the items he is to collect because, thanks to the injuries from the brick, the Junk Man can’t do it on his own.
Though because of his conviction he is avoided at school by classmates and shunned by the parents of friends, pegged by the school principal as a troublemaker, he is friended by an odd 7th grader named Squeak after rescuing him from some football bullies.
Bit by bit we uncover what drove Arthur to do such an awful thing (and question whether, really, we might have done the same ourselves), as well as discovering what Mr. Hampton is really doing with those most important objects.
As he begins to collect the listed objects for Mr. Hampton, he makes some discoveries of his own: how what is important to one person might not be to another, who he really was — and what each of the most important things really stood for, for him.
I love a story with an imperfect hero, and Arthur is just that person. This is a great book for fans of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder and Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl.
The Seventh Most Important Thing was published by Random House Children’s Books and is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores. Author Shelley Pearsall is the author of numerous tween and teen books, and can be found online at her website http://www.shelleypearsall.com, Facebook, and on Twitter at @ShelleyPearsall.
My second pick is Jennifer Brown’s “How Lunchbox Jones Saved Me from Robots, Traitors, and Missy the Cruel“. WHEW. That’s a long title, and it tells you everything and nothing about the story. Everything, because literally, it is about Lunchbox Jones, a robot, and a girl not-so-fondly referred to as “Missy the Cruel”, and nothing, because this books is SO much more!
Jennifer Brown serves up another fantastic book for middle schoolers. In her newest book, she nails the voice of the put-upon middle schooler – who in this story is Luke Abbott. He attends a middle school that loses at EVERYTHING, he’s not speaking to his big brother, he’d rather be playing his video games online with a friend – and he is surrounded by the oddest cast of characters you’ve read. Unfortunately, his skills at video gaming are somehow mistaken for being skilled at robotics, and he is roped into joining the robotics team – who all feel like they are once again destined to fail. Strangely enough, it is the scary, hulking, silent kid referred to as Lunchbox Jones that propels Luke Abbott to not giving up in the face of another potential loss. In the process, Luke learns to forgive his brother, to see that there is more to people than meets the eye, and makes a new friend in the process.
Funny, quirky, and with a cast of zany characters from cheek pinching grandmas, sports-obsessed grandfathers, a girl who does everything with her toes (ew) to an undersized bully, this book is funny, goofy and a great read for any middle schooler who likes the books of Gordon Korman and Jeff Kinney.
How Lunchbox Jones Saved Me from Robots, Traitors, and Missy the Cruel was published by Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books and is currently available on Amazon.com and in bookstores. It Jennifer Brown can be found on her website at http://www.jenniferbrownya.com
Advanced reader copies were provided to me by NetGalley from Random House Children’s Books and Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions found here are mine alone. This post contains affiliate links. While there is no cost to you for clicking on them, I will earn a small fee. (So thanks!)