Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Big Nate

Titles:  Over 20 including In a Class by Himself; Strikes Again; On a Roll; and Friends
            as well as comic strip collections

Author:  Lincoln Peirce (pronounced "purse")

Rating:  *  (1 star out of 3 possible, "C")
             Recommended with Reservations

Audience:  5th grade and up

After lambasting the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, I thought I should check to if the Big Nate series was any better or worse.  I read books 1 and 2:  Big Nate in a Class by Himself and Big Nate Strikes Again.

I'm happy to confess this series is better: a reasonable substitute for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and not only because it's actually clever and funny.  What sets Big Nate apart from Greg Heffley is his sense of conscience and a certain amount of intellectual insight.

Author/illustrator (cartoonist) Lincoln Peirce has been writing a Big Nate comic strip since 1991.  The first book in the series (Big Nate In a Class by Himself) was published much later in 2010.  This tells me that a lot of thought and character development went into the product before marketing it to "prime time."  Additionally, Peirce has both a BA, an MA and broad experience as a writer, artist and teacher.

In comparison, Jeff Kinney, the author of the Wimpy Kid series, was inspired by Peirce's Big Nate comic.  Furthermore, his Amazon bio describes him as an online game developer and designer.  The Wimpy Kid comic was featured only on internet sites prior to book publishing.  At least partly for these reasons, Kinney's writing style, main character and overall tone seem to reflect this shallow sense of the times.

Back to Big Nate.  Is he perfect?  No.  Your child will encounter attitude issues, slang, and a little irreverence, just like real middleschool.  There will be the passing references to "butt," or "poop," or "hating" girls.  The difference comes in areas of vocabulary ("insolence," "frivolous," "diversion,"), education (Nate learns important facts during assignments) and humility (despite having an inflated ego, Nate is easily humbled over the course of the story).  Peirce even offers up a serviceable book list in Big Nate Strikes Again:  Holes; Old Yeller; The Phantom Tollbooth.

Nate certainly pokes fun at various students, and especially his teacher Mrs. Godfrey ("Venus de Silo," "I Can't Believe She's Not Butter," "Boring.com," "Dullapalooza," "She Who Must Not Be Named"), but in most instances he learns to swallow his pride, admit errors and appreciate others.

Nate's dad is a good role model, frequently available to help or talk.  He is not portrayed as bumbling or incompetent, although the family never seems to have any good snacks in the house:  ketchup packets, zesty ranch croutons, prunes, half a bag of chopped walnuts, one box of lime jello-expired.  Maybe that's why I liked this book-I could relate!

I don't recommend an exclusive diet of Big Nate books, but if you or your middleschooler needs a laugh (and, frankly in this day and age, who doesn't), you might give Big Nate a try.  Better yet, make some in-roads with your pre-teen and build relationship by reading and laughing together.

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