Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Misfits, James Howe

Title:  The Misfits
Author:  James Howe
Publisher:  Antheum
Year:  2001
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  6th through 9th Grade
Themes:  Acceptance, Family, Bullying

What do a 12-year-old student who moonlights as a tie salesman, a tall, outspoken girl, a gay middle schooler and a kid branded as a hooligan have in common? Best friends for years, they've all been the target of cruel name-calling and now that they're in seventh grade, they're not about to take it any more. In this hilarious and poignant novel, Howe (Bunnicula; The Watcher) focuses on the quietest of the bunch, overweight Bobby Goodspeed (the tie salesman), showing how he evolves from nerd to hero when he starts speaking his mind. Addie (the outspoken girl) decides that the four of them should run against more popular peers in the upcoming student council election. But her lofty ideals and rabble-rousing speeches make the wrong kind of waves, offending fellow classmates, teachers and the principal. It is not until softer-spoken Bobby says what's in his heart about nicknames and taunts that people begin to listen and take notice, granting their respect for the boy they used to call "Lardo" and "Fluff." (From Publishers Weekly)

This book should be required reading in every middle school in America.  Robby and his group of friends represent the typical middle-school outsider archetypes-the hooligan; the nerd; the unattractive know-it all; the sissy.  But Howe-speaking through his insightful, hilarious narrator, Robby-shows that their experiences of name-calling and bullying are universal.  The book examines issues of race, sexual orientation, and sexism in such a way that the target audience of tweens can easily relate.  While the characters may be more well-adjusted and mature than the average middle-schooler, the journey of these four friends is inspiring.  Speaking of inspiring, this novel spawned a nation-wide event, founded by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network called No Name-Calling Week, which is now celebrated in schools all around the country.  As an educator, I'm speaking from experience when I tell you that the issues presented in this book are just as relevant today as they were when Howe wrote The Misfits.  If you need proof, the fact that this book has been challenged in some school districts should be proof enough.  I wish that we all had the courage and ability to speak truth to power the way that Howe has with this gem of a book.

Teaching Resources:
Teaching Tolerance Interview with Author James Howe 
Teaching Guide from TeacherVision 
No Name Calling Week 
Literature Unit from edHelper 


  1. I have this book and it's sequel- Totally Joe. Now, I need to take the time to read them. Thanks for your recommendation!!!

  2. I read both of them today-very, very good!

  3. Wow, these sound like gutsy kids. I never would have had the courage to take a stand in middle school. Those are the worst years of many people's lives.