I read the My Life As A… series because my 9-year-old daughter read them, enjoyed them and recommended them to me. Each of the three are enjoyable to differing degrees and for different reasons. All three are narrated by Derek. Derek is your average 12-year-old boy. He is basically kind, has a good heart, dreads school at the end of summer vacation and often lacks the ability to project the negative consequences of his imaginative, sometimes well-intentioned, plans.
All three books are short, fun, easy reads appropriate for 3rd Grade through middle school ages. Similar in tone and style to Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, they work equally well as independent or read-aloud choices. Jake Tashjian provides creative–sometimes inspired–stick drawings of various vocabulary words in the margins of every page. Many of his drawing are intriguing and lead the reader to think about specific words in a new and exciting way. The fact that the drawings are parallel to–and not instrumental in the progression of–the plot is what sets this series apart from Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
In My Life As A Book Derek is devastated to discover he will be required to READ and WRITE reports on 3 books from a SUMMER READING LIST. He quickly establishes with the reader that he does NOT like to read and the idea that he must use a portion of his joy-filled, free summer hours to do something he hates is a form of punishment. Derek is encouraged by his Learning Camp counselor to picture the characters and action while reading. This way reading becomes less about a book than it is about stories.
This one will be enjoyed by 3rd through middle school ages. It’s an especially good choice for reluctant readers. It will give them a different perspective and an opportunity to identify with another like themselves. Derek’s courage and success in facing his reading challenge is a great example for like-minded readers.
In My Life As a Stuntboy Derek is “discovered” by a movie stuntman as he and his best friend Matt are experimenting with stunts on their skateboards. Derek is offered a short-term job as a stand-in stuntboy for the child actor in a movie. HIs parents allow him to accept provided that: (1) he continues to work on his reading with a tutor; and (2) he shows more responsibility in taking care of Frank, the capuchin monkey they are fostering–since it was his idea to get him. What follows is a series of close calls with Frank and a prolonged conflict with his best friend. The climactic monkey rescue will have readers holding their breath.
Stuntboy has more uneven pacing than the other two and was the hardest for me to get through. It may work better as a read-aloud than an independent choice. It is a worthwhile read due to the unusual discovery within its pages of the word “parkour.” First used by Tony, the Stuntman, he tells Derek it means “navigating obstacles.” Although used primarily in the context of skateboarding its definition lends itself to Derek’s everyday life, and, in turn, to that of the reader. When you see an obstacle before you: (1) examine it with your eyes; (2) plan out how you will get around it; (3) picture yourself succeeding; then (4) put your plan into action.
My Life As a Cartoonist sees Derek growing as an artist, making serious attempts to study and develop his craft. A new student at school with challenges of his own and artistic talent to rival Derek’s temporarily turns Derek’s world upside-down. He finds himself on the receiving end of unexpected bullying at the same time he is dealing with the aging of his beloved dog. (I WILL reveal here that the dog does NOT die–because I hate it when books sneak that one in on the reader.)
Because one of Cartoonist‘s main plotlines concentrates on bullying from an unexpected source it holds relevance for contemporary students. Derek’s relationship with his dog Bodi is the pivotal aspect around which the subplots revolve. The combination of the themes of love and friendship combined with that of bullying creates an extremely well-rounded and approachable story for readers.