In the years I was still a middle school teacher, students would come up to me with difficult questions which I would try my best to answer, or send them to someone who could help. You might be familiar with some of these questions: “Why is it that I can never be good enough?”; “Why doesn’t anyone like me?”; “I try to be more like X. Why can’t I be more like X?”
Regardless how much I (or the school counselor) tried to help and soothe their insecurities, my students were rarely satisfied and struggled daily to fit in. In their eyes we were, after all, “clueless” grownups who were out of touch with today’s middle school realities. We can try to relate. We can even pull up painful memories from the past and share our stories. However, while the advice we give can be helpful, kids will appreciate and relate better with ideas and advice from other kids their own age.
This is exactly what Annie Fox’s easy to read Middle School Confidential series provides. I had the opportunity to read book one of the series, Be Confident in Who You Are, and was hooked from page one. (Actually I was hooked on the cover first, illustrated by Matt Kindt, but don’t tell anyone! Repeat after me: never judge a book by its cover.)
The book is both a visual and intellectual treat. Boys and girls learn how to deal with bullies, friendships and self esteem issues while navigating pages written partly in graphic-novel style and designed to look like a magazine. This will certainly attract habitual and reluctant readers alike! Readers feel free to read the book from cover to cover or flip through the pages, stopping at a section of interest. They are also encouraged to stop once in a while to take quizzes, ask themselves questions, put themselves in someone else’s shoes and, (the best part), read what other kids their age have to say about being confident in who you are!
Don’t assume that this book is illustrated in pink, nor written with rose-colored lenses. Hard questions are asked and kids from all backgrounds are given voice: from the tallest kid in the classroom to the gay student who is terrified of coming out to family and friends. The frankness in every kid’s shared frustration or idea is refreshing and real.
The book does not boast a quick method for fitting in or being liked by everyone. It simply states reality and gives advice on how to build confidence and play to your strengths. It does not lecture, nor does it speak down to the reader. In a friendly, engaging voice, the text provides the reader with a safe place to ask and wonder about those tough middle school questions.
Some of the sections of the book include: Sometimes I just Lose It; Meet The Opinionator; and I Don’t Get It. My favorite part, and one that applies to tweens and adults alike, is the Relax & Re-Center section, where Annie Fox lists some ways to reduce stress. It’s so effective, by step five I’m not only relaxed, but laughing.
In case you’re wondering, step one is to stop whatever you are doing. By the time you get to step five your eyes are closed, you’re focused on breathing and then…”Relax your hands and fingers, feet and toes. Relax your butt muscles…”
After you’ve relaxed those butt muscles (and hopefully had a good laugh like I did), head over to Annie Fox’s website to learn more about her other books and advice for students, parents and teachers.
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