As a school librarian, I’m always looking for books that make my students laugh… and think a little while they’re at it. Stories like that are tough to find. The Wimpy Kid series is great and I’m pretty sure Jeff Kinney managed to bring out my sincerest bark-laugh (think two seals in a tickle fight) but I don’t know if I’d call his books enriching for the 4th to 7th grade crowd. Something that digs a little deeper would be nice.
This book proves that disability fiction for kids doesn’t have to inspire pity– and it can be funny too!
“Jamie Grimm is a middle schooler on a mission: he wants to become the world’s greatest standup comedian–even if he doesn’t have a lot to laugh about these days. He’s new in town and stuck living with his aunt, uncle, and their evil son Stevie, a bully who doesn’t let Jamie’s wheelchair stop him from messing with Jamie as much as possible. But Jamie doesn’t let his situation get him down. When his Uncle Frankie mentions a contest called The Planet’s Funniest Kid Comic, Jamie knows he has to enter. But are the judges only rewarding him out of pity because of his wheelchair, like Stevie suggests?”
Why the character of Jamie Grimm is refreshing:
- He’s funny– but not at anyone’s expense. I enjoy a good stupid-human joke as much as the next person but this book manages to get laughs without making fun of the geek, putting worms in the teacher’s sandwich, or discussing the vile adventures one can only have in the bathroom.
- He is in a wheelchair but he is not an outcast. I wish I saw this more in children’s literature. Books like Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper and Rules by Cynthia Lord are great. They encourage understanding and inclusion– but in most of these stories, the kid in the wheelchair is friendless and alone until a kind soul finally gives them a chance. These stories inspire empathy (yay!) but also a hefty dose of pity (blurg!). I love that Jamie Grimm already has friends, he has a sense of humor, and he is social. He doesn’t need to be rescued. Win.
- He gives helpful tips for kids who befriend someone in a wheelchair. For instance, it’s okay to ask questions and it’s nice if you pull up a chair or hunker down for long conversations so your buddy on wheels doesn’t break their neck looking up at you. Good to know.
This book isn’t perfect and some topics are painted a bit too rosy, but in the area of disability fiction for kids, it’s a welcome change.
Way to go, Patterson!