Being a new kid in middle school is not without its dangers. Making an immediate favourable impression is essential, getting in with the right groups and knowing who to be friends with seems to be the key to success. Neil Swaab, Brooklyn based writer and illustrator, has addressed all these issues in this book to great comic effect. When I was growing up there was Molesworth and the “How To Be Topp” and “Down With Skool” books by Geoffrey Wilans, so memorably illustrated by Ronald Searle. These books were published in the mid 50’s and they were still very popular twenty plus years later, although they did speak to a previous generation rather than my own but here school survival is put into the American Middle school system of 2015. British children for whom the notion of middle schools, hall passes, Fall Assemblies may seem alien will still find much to entertain them even if they do not get all the references. I certainly didn’t get all the references at St Custards in the Molesworth books but that didn’t stop me loving them. Children nowadays are more clued up as to how American school works, thanks to TV shows etc. In my day my knowledge of what went down in American schools was largely from Archie Comics.
Anyway, our guide here is Max Corrigan, Junior life coach who will ensure we avoid the pitfalls of getting on in school even as he plunges us right into them. He helpfully breaks the kids into cliques (including the class clowns, preps, jocks, nerds and tough kids – which one were you?) and provides a passage for us to win friends and influence these groups so as we never have to sit alone in the lunch hall. Swaab uses a good mix of text and very likeable illustrations throughout and employs different fonts to great effect. You , on the other hand , will be used as a way of getting the cliques together and given ways to infiltrate each group. You will be given advice on everything from conversation starters (“I can tell you’re the kind of guy who appreciates a good fire”), to conversation avoiders ( “Is anyone else here a fan of ventriloquism?”). There’s a recipe for making fake vomit to use when a distraction is needed and you will suffer the ignominy (temporarily thankfully) of being the least popular kid in school because of a Twitter post (the things kids these days have to go through!) All essential factors in your education to ensure you don’t end up like Eugene Leach who is so unpopular his imaginary friend is full of excuses.
The humour is definitely suited to the age group. There’s toilet humour a-plenty but it is still actually funny and it has been done very well. If any of this sounds appealing or if you know someone who this will appeal to, maybe someone who is not yet aware that middle school can be “worse than getting a purple nurple on your you-know-where” then this book is well worth a try.
The Secrets To Ruling School is published 2015 in USA by Amulet Books – British Publication 28th July 2015)
Thanks to Netgalley for providing this title for me to review.
3 thoughts on “The Secrets To Ruling School– Neil Swaab (2015) – A Kid-Lit Review”
Mmm. Sounds like the kind of book my great-niece might like. I’ll find out if she reads first. I read the Mallory Towers books. (Enid Blyton, it was a boarding school for girls. Your sisters may have read them.) They were quite amusing in part ( if you were the right age). But they were written in another time and a world away from what I knew. We had a French teacher who resembled the description of one of the French mistresses in the books and as a twelve year old that amused me.
It’s funny you should mention Enid Blyton from this. My next review in the Kid-Lit section will be from a children’s mystery writer who is being compared to Enid Blyton, but with a contemporary edge. You’ll have to look out for it soon!
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