Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth
by Jeff Anderson
Cover Art by Tad Carpenter
Illustrations by Andrea Miller
Published by Sterling Children's Books
In the kid lit and Twitter world, Jeff Anderson is known for his professional development books on grammar and revision and writing. I was intrigued when I heard he would be writing a middle grade novel. Here's a teacher and professional writer doing what we talk about - walking the walk. We ask students to write all the time, but how often do we practice what we preach? I was interested in seeing this first attempt.
Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth centers on Zack and his sixth-grade classmates at a school in San Antonio, Texas. We meet Zack and right away we find out he is a kid that is often made fun of and he is a kid that pretty much just wants to blend in with the walls. He's short, he has "Harry Potter" glasses, and his clothes are too big. Too many things wrong that make for easy jokes for many of his classmates. He's not the only one who is being bullied in his class, in fact, no one is in the clear when it comes to his classmate Jose' "El Pollo Loco" Soto. Right away, Zack finds himself in a leadership role (unwanted) with El Pollo Loco (also unwanted) and has to organize the school fundraiser to raise money in order for the sixth graders to attend the school dance. As always, things go wrong. Will our wallflower blossom? Will Zack overcome his fears in order to succeed? Tried and true themes, but some that middle graders will relate.
As I read, I had my own reactions to the book. I think it was a good start to a new series. I'm hoping the books just keep getting better from this point out. I liked Zack, and I'm looking forward to seeing more character growth with him. I appreciated the diversity of the book. It was a new setting, not too many books set in San Antonio! I liked the theme of working hard and finding success. I liked the subtle tell the truth lesson. The bullying was particularly rough, especially against the female character, Janie. I was hoping for a teacher that would be the model teacher, the one that would be the teacher you model all others on. There was one scene at the end that was particularly gross. You could see that's where the story was going, but still, yuck.
But then I had to remind myself of who the audience is of this book. Sometimes, as adults, I think we want to see a book go in a particular direction. Or we're particularly critical of a book, that while it didn't resonate with us, will be a hit with its intended audience. I can think of many books in children's literature that I loved, but they weren't a hit with children, because children (the audience) didn't relate to the book. This is a book that was written for middle schoolers in mind.
Once I thought of that, I turned to my ten-year-old, who read it at the same time as me, and asked her thoughts. Not a huge surprise, but she loved it. Why? In her words:
"I loved it because Zack did something that was practically impossible. He saved the dance so everyone could go. Zack overcame his fears and he ended up being more popular than before. Everyone praised him because what he did helped everyone. He was a hero."
The parts I enjoyed about the book - the themes - were noticed by my daughter and stuck out to her. I thought it was interesting that the parts of the book that I wanted to be different - lack of a teacher role model, certain scenes in the book - were not even mentioned by her when she talked about the book. When I mentioned the gross scene, she laughed and said "yeah, that was gross, but it was funny." The audience gets it. I'm not the intended audience. Middle schoolers are. And based upon this middle schooler's review, the kids are going to love it!
I will put this book in my classroom library and recommend it to students. I think they are going to sit back and enjoy this book. And when kids read, that's a good thing.
Happy Book Birthday, Zack Delacruz!
Have you checked out Kurt Stroh's blog?
Click here to see an interview with author Jeff Anderson
Click here to see an interview with Zack Delacruz himself!
And Jeff Anderson wrote today's Nerdy post. Be sure to read it here.