After reading my daughter’s review of her series Sisters 8, Lauren Baratz-Logsted contacted me about reviewing her new series – Hat City Middle School, which is available on the Kindle. We are very appreciative of this chance to read her latest work and also to receive a free copy of the first two books in the series for review. My daughter is a bit younger than the target audience; she is going into third grade this fall and the Hat City kids are in sixth grade. This did not stop her from wanting to read the books, however. After all, what third grader doesn’t want to read about sixth graders? Here are some of her (and my) reactions to both books.
My daughter (let’s call her S.) is a huge fan of Sisters 8, a series of nine books about eight magical seven-year-old girls, and she has never used my Kindle before. So it was not difficult to get her to pick up Guys Against the Girls, the first book in the brand new Hat City Middle School series. I asked her if she noticed any similarities between the two series, and she came up with a couple: 1) In both series, Baratz-Logsted chooses to tell the story from a different character’s (or group of characters’) perspective, either in each chapter or in each book. 2) Boys versus girls is a theme that comes up in both series – at the end of Sisters 8 and the beginning of Hat City Middle School. The differences are more obvious: the Sisters 8 books are fantasy books; the Hat City books are realistic fiction. Hat City is focusing on an older audience and is aiming to attract male readers as well as female.
The premise of Guys Against the Girls is straight-forward. A substitute teacher for the advanced sixth-grade math class rudely claims that boys are better than girls at math. The girls are deeply offended and the boys are flummoxed. When their normal teacher returns, she explains that girls are often perceived as worse at math and better at verbal skills. A series of disagreements are followed by an official verbal/math throwdown. Middle school teachers will love this book, because in addition to discussing a common stereotype, it also contains many literary and mathematical references. As an adult, I am impressed by how thoughtful and academically-oriented the middle school students in Hat City are. I was originally afraid that kids might consider the characters unrealistic, until I asked S., who assures me that they are relatable. In fact, she found the school environment very familiar, except for the name – Hat City, which she thought was a bit unusual.
Here is S.’s final assessment: “It was funny. One of the parts that stuck in my head is when Melissa was allergic to pineapples and ate pineapple by accident. One of my favorite parts is when guys and girls presented reports on Little Women. I like that book too!”
While Guys Against the Girls is told from the alternating perspectives of all of the girls and all of the guys, Robbie Knightley is a more usual first-person narrative, featuring Robbie – one of the boys in the advanced sixth-grade class – as the main character. The story begins in the middle of a scene from the first book when Robbie is reading a memoir from the previous Christmas; this time from his viewpoint. It continues with the following Christmas, when Robbie is caught once again opening his presents before he is supposed to. His parents overreact and say things that hurt his feelings. Robbie is bright, but like many adolescents he is insecure and concerned with other people’s perceptions of him. He is also in love with one of the girls, because as S. says, “he is in sixth grade, of course.” S. and her friends enjoy playing teenager. They talk funny and mockingly swoon over boys. Just you wait, little girl.
Here is S.’s final assessment:
“It was good. I like characters with bad luck. My favorite part is the scene where he makes chocolate covered broccoli. Grandma is funny, because she is always worried about the weather.”
And now S. has only one question: “Is there a third book, Mommy?”