AUTHOR: Sean Jensen
SERIES: Middle School Rules, book 1
PUBLISHER: Broadstreet Publishing Group
PUBLICATION DATE: February 17, 2015
GENRE: biography, sports
SETTING: Lovington, New Mexico, early 1990s
GIVE IT TO: MS football fans
SUMMARY: Presents a biographical account of NFL linebacker Brian Urlacher during his formative middle school years, his failures and successes in school and in sports, sibling rivalry, and how, despite adversity, young Brian never gave up his dreams. Told with chapters, reads more like a story than a biography.
WHAT I LIKED: I am trying very hard lately to broaden my reading and reviewing horizons. I tend to choose more YA romance and dystopia books, and I want to branch out to include other genres that I am less inclined to read. When I saw this book compared to Kinney’s classic Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I gave it a whirl.
The idea for the Middle School Rules series is a really good one that is desperately needed among sports books for middle grade readers. According to the blurb, the Middle School Rules series intends to “inspire greatness in the next generation by highlighting the importance of being your best, overcoming adversity, and reaching your dreams through discipline and hard work.” I think this is a fantastic goal for a series that spotlights professional athletes and how they weren’t just born professional athletes. There is a huge amount of hard work that goes into playing for professional sports leagues, and books that tell these stories are hugely needed for our young sports fans.
I do think there is an audience for this book. Reluctant readers who love football could be talked into trying this one, especially if they have heard of Brian Urlacher, which is likely. I’m just sad that the writing isn’t better. Just because a book is for reluctant readers doesn’t mean the writing has to be super-simplistic.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: Despite the comparisons I’ve seen to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this is nothing like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It’s not funny. The artwork looks more like free clipart than anything original. There’s more telling than showing in the simplistic, uninspired writing style.
On my review template for School Library Journal, there is a section that asks me if “the story has a dominant theme, is it too obviously superimposed on the plot?” I’ve reviewed for SLJ for three years, but I never really understood that question until I read The Middle School Rules of Brian Urlacher. Holy, yes, the theme too obviously superimposes the plot in this one! Now I know what that question means!!!
The obvious theme here is “Work hard and don’t make excuses,” and the author takes every single opportunity to remind the reader of this theme. While I liked the sibling rivalry and that Brian’s mom starts out as a single mother (she remarried when Brian was seven), Brian feels too much like a “golden boy” in the events that occur. He feels mad or frustrated or jealous, but those things just inspire him to work harder. I felt beat over the head with the “no excuses” meme. I get why the author adds this to the story, but it’s just so OBVIOUS. I think even young, reluctant readers will tire of the whole “winners never quit” thing. Every time young Brian experienced adversity, he remembered that “winners never quit!” When he takes licks at school for something he didn’t do (completely unfair since they had no proof at all), Brian just channels his anger into his football game that night. Winners never quit! No excuses! It just got old so quickly. And there you have it, folks: a “theme too obviously superimposed on the plot.”
THE BOTTOM LINE: I like the idea, but the execution is overly simplistic and preachy. Winners never quit! No excuses!
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We don’t have it, and I have no plans to order it.
READALIKES: Kickoff! (Tiki and Ronde Barber); Football Hero (Tim Green); anything by Matt Christopher
- Overall: 2/5
- Creativity: 1/5
- Characters: 2/5
- Engrossing: 1/5
- Writing: 1/5
- Appeal to tweens: 3/5–particularly reluctant readers who love football
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 3/5
- Language: none
- Sexuality: none
- Violence: none
- Drugs/Alcohol: none