My Life as a Book

My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian; illus. by Jake Tashjian Intermediate, Middle School Ottaviano/Holt 214 pp. 7/10 978-0-8050-8903-5 $16.99 g
Meet twelve-year-old Derek, a perfect example of the kind of kid adults describe with loving exasperation as "all boy." Derek fidgets, makes (with magic marker grids) grenades out of avocados, and, above all, doesn't like to read required books. In Derek's mind, summer means two months of liberation—that is, until his parents send him to Learning Camp so he won't squander his intellectual potential. What they don't realize is that Derek is an inquisitive child; an imaginative artist; and, in educational parlance, a visual learner. For not being much of a reader, Derek is a smooth narrator with a strong, humorous voice. He outlines the trials and tribulations of Learning Camp, especially in getting along with teacher's pet Carly. Derek's attempts to solve a mystery from his childhood connect the events of the story and divert readers from any hint of didacticism as he learns to build on his strengths rather than concentrate on his weaknesses. Cartoon drawings by the author's teenaged son decorate the margins and not only re-create Derek's illustrated vocabulary lists but also reduce the amount of text on each page, making the book more approachable for kids like Derek. Derek tells readers, "If my life were a book, I'd have my own cool adventures." It is, and he does. BETTY CARTER
Gr 4—7—Twelve-year-old Derek has been identified as a reluctant reader. He likes to read, but doesn't enjoy required materials. He says he prefers having his own adventures (tossing as hand grenades the avocados his mother is saving for dinner, climbing onto the roof with a croquet set to hit wooden balls into the satellite dish) to learning about someone else's life. When his teacher gives the class summer reading and writing assignments, Derek finds a way to distract himself from the task. He discovers an old newspaper clipping about a 17-year-old who drowned, and his mother explains that the teen was babysitting him at the time and died saving him. Derek is determined to learn more about her death and his involvement in it. The margins of this book feature vocabulary words illustrated with cartoons. The protagonist is by turns likable and irritating, but always interesting. He is sure to engage fans of Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" books (Abrams) as well as those looking for a spunky, contemporary boy with a mystery to solve. Reluctant readers will appreciate the book's large print and quick-paced story.—Helen Foster James, University of California at San Diego
In twelve-year-old Derek's mind, summer means liberation--until his parents send him to Learning Camp. With a strong, humorous voice, Derek outlines his trials and tribulations. Attempts to solve a mystery divert readers from any hint of didacticism as Derek learns to build on his strengths. Cartoon drawings by the author's teenaged son re-create Derek's illustrated vocabulary lists and make the book approachable.

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