Monday, May 30, 2011

"Dear Dumb Diary..." by Jim Benton

I'm going to review the series as a whole because there are too many books to do each one. At a mere 100+ pages or so, that would be a lot of writing. But I didn't want to omit telling you about these fabulous books...

They came in to my branch about 2 weeks ago on a Friday afternoon. I had never heard of the "dear dumb diary" series, and I didn't know who Jim Benton was, either (or so I thought). The first thing I noticed were the covers - bright, flaming fluorescent colors: hot pink, neon green, fire engine red, etc. Extremely eye-catching, enough that I really started to look at them. Then the titles caught me: "Never Do Anything, EVER", "My Pants are Haunted!", "It's Not My Fault I Know Everything", etc. Very cute, a bit snarky, and highly intriguing. Then I read the author's bio - and lo and behold, this is the Happy Bunny Guy!!!

Well, that cinched it. I checked out every single title (all except #9, which is somehow not assigned to my branch) and took them home. I devoured the first three on Saturday, read another 3 or so Sunday, two on Monday, and finished the last one Tuesday morning. Yes, they are that good!

The reading level is appropriate for third thru fifth grade, I think. (remember, I'm not a professional here, just giving my humble opinion). There are plenty of illustrations to keep those not overly ready for "text only" books, and those of us that enjoy a good, humorous picture, too. The books are short, but not super-short, which makes them perfect for kids looking for "chapter books". 

The best thing though is the writing. Finally, smart, well-developed books for kids! Don't look for the repetition of "Lemony Snicket" here, nor the outright meanness of the "Wimpy Kid". These are smart, funny works by Benton, and god love him, there's actual character development here! None of the kids is purely good, nor purely evil, and the relationships between the main characters changes a bit in each book. Childhood fears are explored, doing the "right" thing, etc, so that each title has a small morality tale to it; Benton wisely does not hit the reader over the head with each "lesson".

Jamie is smart and witty; her best friend Isabella reminds me of a pit bull drawn like Marcie from the Peanuts cartoon; Angeline is soooooooo pretty and "good" (but not really); the boys are - well - boys. The adults aren't stupid and clueless, and neither are the teachers. It was such a pleasure to read books for the grade school reader that I would actually recommend, and I can't wait for Benton to put out the twelfth in the series, "Me! (Just Like You, Only Better)"

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