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Monday, September 12, 2011

The Misfits, written by James Howe. Simon & Schuster, 2001. $7.99 ages 10 and up

"Kids who get called the worst names oftentimes find each other. That's how it was with us, Skeezie Tookis and Addie Carle and Joe Bunch and me. We call ourselves the Gang of Five, but there are only four of us. We do it to keep people on their toes. Make 'em wonder. Or maybe we do it because we figure that there's one more kid out there who's going to need a gang to be a part of. A misfit, like us."

“Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirits.”

Every teacher in middle school would do well to read this book to their class, at the beginning of the year. It is insightful, heartfelt and meaningful to those navigating that rocky middle years road. The Gang of Five have much to teach us about feelings, name-calling and especially about what being a friend actually means. They are misfits. They are funny, engaging and in our classrooms.

The journey that the four friends take together is fraught with name calling, bullying and the many other ways adolescents choose to treat one another in classrooms, and in schools. When this book was published it inspired a nation wide event in the United States called No Name Calling Week. Imagine a world where such a thing would not even have to be considered, and then think that even one week gives respite to the 'misfits' who are called those names on a daily basis. Despite the impact it had when first published, and the issues that emerged for those on the receiving end of such abuse, I would bet that not much has changed since then. It is an oft-challenged book for subject matter, and that should scare each one of us.

The Gang of Five have been friends for years. They laugh, eat, commiserate with each other. Once a week, they meet at the Candy Kitchen for the Friday Forum (now changed to Floating Forum because of Bobby's new job) to eat ice cream and talk about those issues that have meaning in their lives. Addie acts as secretary and scribes every conversation. We are privy to them. Together, they will survive seventh grade:
"What I want to say is that Addie has been my friend my whole life, and Skeezie and Joe, for a long time...
and, well, I think they are the bravest people I know. They are strong enough to be who they are, no matter what names they get called."

When they decide to run in school elections as the No-Name Party, they learn a lot more than they were anticipating. Yes, they learn about politics and popularity. They also learn about love and what it really means to be a misfit. Bobby shares what they know about names:

"Another thing I think about names is that they do hurt. They hurt because we believe them. We think they are telling us something true about ourselves, something other people can see even if we don't.
Lardo fluff fatso faggot fairy dweeb mutant freak ree-tard loser greaser know-it-all beanpole dork...
Is that me? we think. Is that who I am?"

I wanted to include every word of Bobby's speech...that is its power. I hope that you will care enough to find out what he said by reading it yourself! That is the best I can do with this post...encourage you to take the time to read this worthy and wonderful book. Oh, and don't forget the other two... Totally Joe and Addie on the Inside. Now, we just need to wait for Skeezie to tell us his story. I do hope it's in the works! I will be near the front of the line to buy it.

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