Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Secrets to Ruling the School

The Secrets to Ruling the School
Neil Swaab
Abrams, 2015 226 pgs.
Grades 4-8
Secrets to Ruling the School series #1

Veteran children's cartoonist pens his first solo comic/fiction hybrid in this irreverent offering. You, as the the reader, are the new kid in middle school. You are greeted at the door by Max Corrigan, self proclaimed middle school life coach who is willing to work with you to make your school life a social success. Immediately Max takes you under his wing and explains the cliques and pitfalls of middle school life. In order to break into the social scene Max recommends getting in with the class clowns. They are willing to accept you, but only if you get the artists to do them a favor. The most legendary artist in the school is willing to work with you, but only if you can get the band kids to do something for her. This goes on and on through the cliques of the school from the jocks to the nerds to the juvenile delinquents until the big fall assembly, where the action comes to a head and you will either be the most popular kid in school or the biggest failure. The assembly not only brings closure, but also a big surprise. Throughout it all, Max is engaging in a war with his biggest rival, who is using bullying tactics to bring both of you down. Max is with you every step of the way, offering his advise, wisdom, and humor.

Swaab, formally a cartoonist for James Patterson's comic/fiction hybrid series "Middle School" is branching out solo. He is using the format established by Jeff Kinney, yet adding his own twist. This is part middle school satire and part instruction manual for social success. Max is the narrator, talking to and educating the reader throughout the book. Other characters, representing the various cliques and administration, are written in different fonts to help establish the personality of the character and help to make the narration clear. The volume is well designed with generous comic illustrations on every page and homemade charts and graphs offered by Max to insure social success. This is a very contemporary update of a classic folktale, which I know of as "The Old Woman and Her Pig" but is called different titles in different cultures, where in order to get a job done one thing keeps asking another for a favor down the line, until someone is willing to help out, which solves all the favors in a domino effect. This book is constantly funny and contemporary, yet will not be dated quickly. Swaab relies a bit too heavily on potty humor and the book can get a bit "off-color", but nothing too over the top and the target audience will love it. Give this book to Wimpy Kid fans and to kids who don't like to read. The story ends with Max getting a great idea to become the reader's campaign manager for class president, which serves as a lead in to the next installment in the series, set to be released this September in time for the presidential election.

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