Middle School Confidential: What’s Up With My Family?, by Annie Fox

Rating: 5/5

The word “family” evokes many feelings; some happy, others nostalgic.

Sometimes we would like to think it stops at that. In reality, happiness and nostalgia are also accompanied by anger, worries and problems that plague every family, which range in scope and intensity. Some can hang these negative feelings in a closet and put on a happy face in the morning as they walk out the door. Others carry their feelings tucked under their clothes—an uncomfortable fit that is difficult to hide—or buried deep in the pit of their stomach, struggling to claw their way out. Still others constantly work through their problems and grow as individuals and as a family.

That’s just us adults. Imagine how these problems affect kids.

When I was still a middle school teacher, I witnessed many students suffering due to family problems they were ill-equipped to deal with. Those who felt they could confide in a grownup would share concerns like: “My dad hates me because he’s having a new baby with a lady who is not my mom”; “My sister got pregnant and she’s just sixteen”; and “My family is worried I might end up in jail.”
While it is helpful to talk to these children and send them to a guidance counselor who can begin to work with the child and family, it is important for kids to learn about others who are dealing with similar issues. Many kids feel constantly talked down to by adults and family members, so they are more open to shared experiences and plans of action suggested by other kids their own age.

In her third book in the series, Middle School Confidential: What’s Up With My Family?, Annie Fox once again provides this vicarious experience for children, where they can find questions and advice from other kids from various backgrounds who also struggle with family problems. The book again incorporates a magazine-like design and beautiful graphic novel-style illustrations by Matt Kindt, which are always a visual treat. New, reluctant and returning readers of this series will easily be attracted by this style, as it encourages the reader to scan, choose and interact with any page in any order. The quizzes, character conversations and kids’ quotes invite the reader to form part of a conversation and constantly explore ways to actively participate and work effectively in a family.

What’s Up With My Family? simply and straightforwardly states some of the most annoying, problematic and emotionally difficult family situations, such as Mateo’s case, whose family will not stop asking questions and invading his privacy, to the child who is forced to only interact with other children from his family’s culture. As always with this series, the rose-colored lenses are tossed in favor of reality, which every child can appreciate. There is no lecture, nor does it speak down to the reader. The text is a safe place to ask, wonder, reflect and look for more information on family issues.

Annie Fox delivers valuable, practical advice on family relationships with real life examples that tug at the heartstrings. I highly recommend this book to children, families and educators. Though its intended audience is middle school children, all families can find some comfort and friendly advice between the pages of this book.

Amidst the questions, confusion, anger and fuel-ish thoughts in the family, the need for things to change is always at the forefront. For this to happen, there is one concept from the book that should be pervasive. As Annie Fox writes: “It has to start with you.”

Check out her site here.

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