The Losers Club

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Is it really possible for the good guy to please his teachers, get rid of the bully and get the girl?

Middle school has some real challenges and it doesn't help that sixth-grader Alec is in the Hot Seat.  Not the best way to start off the new school year.  But what's a guy to do when he loves to read?  Yep, it's 9:15am on Tuesday and Alec is in major trouble.  He's already been sent to the principal's office.

The bell rings and other kids start walking by.  That's when he hears it, "Do you smell something?"  It's Kent Blair.  They used to be friends but now Kent calls Alec a bookworm, makes fun of him and pushes him around.  Kent is your basic bully.

When the principal finally opens her door to bring him in, Alec doesn't know how he's going to deal with her.  What can a guy say when he's accused of reading?  She starts the conversation by reminding him he was sent to her office last year fourteen different times and all for reading in class instead of paying attention.  She has an ultimatum for him this year.  All of his teachers are going to be watching him and if he doesn't change his ways, she's going to put him in a six week summer school program where he can learn some better study skills.  Six weeks?  That means no trip to New Hampshire and no swimming in the lake and no water-skiing.

At home Alec runs into the wall called his parents.  They aren't very happy to hear from the school that their son isn't paying attention.  On top of that it turns out Alec and his younger brother, Luke, are going to have to stay after school this year for the Extended Day Program.  At Extended Day they can pick an activity for themselves so at least they get to do what they want to be doing.  It could be Homework Room, Active Games or Club Room.

What Alec wants to do after a long day at school focusing on his work, is read.  Just read.  So he comes up with a great idea. What if he starts a reading club?  Awww..a bunch of kids might show up for that and then there won't be any peace and quiet. He doesn't want too many people to join up.   But wait, what if he calls it The Losers Club?  Nobody will want to join that.  Right?  But he does need one more person in the club or the teacher won't let him start it.  What if that one person turns out to be a girl named Nina?

Sixth grade turns out to have a lot of challenges.  There's the bully named Kent.  There's the girl named Nina.  There's the Open House where Alec and his fellow readers have to perform.  Mostly there's Alec trying to figure out how to handle the anger he feels inside and how to make good choices.

Lucky for him he has read some great books with characters who have wandered into the same kinds of problems.  Alec's booklist will undoubtedly inspire plenty of fifth and sixth graders to take a second look.  Listening to how much Alec liked reading these and then seeing how they helped him connect with the best of himself and wend his way through his first year of middle school, will inspire and offer enough of a promise to capture the attention even of the Kents in this world...and happily the Ninas and the Alecs too.

230 pages    978-0399557552   Ages 8-12

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com

Editor's Note:  This book is the winner of the 2018 Children's and Teen Choice Book Award in the 5th-6th grade category.

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Alec is one of those kids who loves to read more than he loves school. It is his solace and refuge, and on the very first day of school, he is sent to the principal's office for reading instead of doing his work in art class. The principal informs him that if he doesn't mend his ways and do better in his classes, she will recommend him for a summer program for study skills. Not wanting to spend six weeks of his summer back in school, Alec does try to pay attention, but there's the problem of after school as well. Both of his parents have gone back to work, and Alec and his brother Luke have to spend three hours in an after school program. At first, this seems like a great idea. Alec will just read quietly in a corner. That's not good enough for the program director, who informs him he will have to do his homework in the designated center, join in Active Games, or join a club. After some problems with his former friends David and Kent, Alec decides to create his own club and try to limit it to people who want to sit and read quietly. He finds another member, Nina, and is secretly pleased that he can talk to a girl and have her seem interested, but there is someone else who would like Nina's attention-- Kent. Kent is a great athlete who enjoys making fun of Alec, and he undermines the Loser's Club as much as he can. Eventually, though, the three actually discuss the problems that they are having with each other and come to a tenuous understanding. The Loser's Club continues to grow, and even Alec realizes that while reading is a great thing to do, it's not the only way he wants to spend his time.

Clements is the undisputed master of the school story, but this book also made me realize that there is a delightful new trend in middle grade literature. More and more, we are seeing children who are having trouble relating to friends, talking to the other gender, struggling in school, or trying to work their way through typical middle school problems... and they have support and actually do the right thing! Is this circling back to the 1950s, when all of the children were models of good behavior? Not at all. Alec isn't perfect. He promises his parents he will bring his grades up, but after a while, they drop. He is mean to a boy who wants to join the club, but when Nina calls him on it, he apologizes!

The fantastic thing about this is that children really do look to books for clues on how they should act. It's hard to know how to handle certain situations, but if they can see positive examples in literature, it's bound to help. Kent and Alec's relationship is extremely well portrayed. Kent is a stereotypical bully in some ways, but in many ways, he's not. He usually only gives Alec a hard time when his friends are around, but when he sees Alec doing fairly well in dodge ball, he actually encourages him to explore sports some more. Alec wins a bet and makes Kent read a book, but he makes the effort to go to the school librarian for recommendations of books that Kent might like. This is how teachers and parents hope that children will act. It's delightful to see.

Clements excels at writing is a short, succinctly written book, with a certain suspenseful feel to it. What will happen with Alec and Nina? Will the group be able to make a Parents' Night presentation? Will Alec be able to keep his grades up? This will keep readers turning the pages, and along the way they will encounter a list of books that the characters like that they might be interested in picking up after they have finished The Loser's Club. Unless they need to immediately reread it for comfort!

Recommended by:  Karen Yingling, Library Media Specialist, Ohio USA

See more of her recommendations :  http://msyinglingreads.blogspot.com

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