Good Books for Boys, middle grade

Ode to a Class Clown: Justin Fisher Declares War!

No good will come of that goldfish...

At the Flying Dragon we are always on the lookout for great reads for 8-10 year old boys. This seems to be the age where reading becomes a chore instead of fun. Not every little boy loves fantasy or graphic novels, so where do you go from there? How do you capture a reluctant reader and turn him (or her) into a reader for life? The answer? Make ’em laugh! Regardless of gender or genre preferences, funny always works. Just ask Jeff Kinney. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid phenomenon isn’t really all that surprising when you look at the books’ elements. Underdog champion? Check. Funny? Check. Accessible format? Check.

James Preller’s upcoming book Justin Fisher Declares War is officially one of my go-to funny books for boys, or it least it will be when it hits shelves this summer. When Justin moves to a new school and finds himself in the midst of a social status- killing, spaghetti related incident, he decides to take control of the situation and turns it into a slapstick routine. This moment ends up defining the next two years of Justin’s elementary school career as class clown. But fifth grade is different. People don’t seem to be enjoying his antics, in fact they seem kind of irritated. What’s a class clown to do?

I really enjoyed being inside the head of a true-blue class clown. Justin is a well-meaning, generally funny kid. Although some of his jokes are at the expense of others, none of them are cruel or even ill-intentioned. In fact, Justin’s jokes exclude him from birthday parties and lose him some friends. With the help of a wall flower with an incredible voice and a misunderstood teacher (aren’t they all!), Justin learns that he can still be funny without ostracizing everyone around him.

This book could be considered a loose sequel to Along Came a Spider, but only because both books take place in the same setting and there are a few crossover characters. It is not necessary to read one to understand he other. James Preller’s writing style is breezy and fun. Having spent some time in elementary school classrooms myself, I found his dialogue and classroom antics very authentic. At some points I found myself thinking of Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine books. This is high praise, as Clementine is one of my all-time favourite early chapter book heroines. I think boys will relate to Justin and enjoy laughing along with his misadventures. Coming in under 150 pages, with short chapters and a fast-paced story, Justin Fisher Declares War is a great transitional book for boys.

Justin Fisher Declares War will be published by Scholastic this summer. In the meantime, check out James Preller’s blog.

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