“We went home and did all the things we always did. But for some reason it was different. I tried to look at them with “new eyes” just like I did with Miss Mary, hoping I would find something different. I didn’t talk much, just tried to study them like I was meeting them for the first time.” — Mina aka Mini Mouth, from The Offenders by Jerry Craft
I have two boys – brothers — I tutor in art and reading. The younger one is 5 and the older is 10. I usually work with them separately, but every once in a while we get to meet together, and a few weeks ago, we did. They were each working on sock monsters – creatures made from various stuffed and mutilated socks. Sam, the 5 year old, noticed a book on my desk, The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention , by Jerry Craft, and was intrigued by the cover. So I read him the title and subtitle. His brother Jack came over for a closer look.
“How can you save the world while serving detention?”
“I just got the book,” I answered. “I don’t know yet.”
Jack flipped through it quickly. “It’s a chapter book,” he said dismissively.
“No, look,” Sam said. “There are pictures.” Then to me, “Can you read it to me?”
For the next few sessions we read the about how bullies became super-heroes – sort of. A freak accident gives five middle-school bullies the characteristics of the kids they bully and a special power linked to the change. It’s a surprising transformation and kept both boys intrigued. How are these new super-kids going to save the day when their self-esteem is at an all-time low?
Both Sam and Jack have problems with attention deficit disorder. They’ve both experienced bullying. They’ve dealt with it different ways. Sam is only 5, but even so, he’s been put in “time-out” often. Jack is more of a quiet kid, who tries to get along with the teacher and ask for help. They have an exotic last name and a mixed heritage. They haven’t found a way of “fitting in” yet.
The Offenders represent a full range of ethnic and economic backgrounds. It’s written in different voices, each child tells their story, the way their transformation impacts them, and the way they learn what it means to have compassion – both for others and themselves. Except they don’t sound that clinical. The characters talk in the language you’d hear on the playground, giving it an authenticity in the midst of fantastic adventure.
Though it’s mostly a chapter book, Craft is also an illustrator and author of the comic Mama’s Boyz, we’re treated to a bit of the comic strip format.
There’s also a flip book along the bottom pages, another charm of this well designed book.
I loved how this book brings to life the idea of redemption in a way that even a 5 year-old can understand, and that a 10 year old can find exciting.
I think part of the charm and authenticity comes from the fact that Craft wrote this book with his sons, Jaylen and Aren. The boys made sure the story was accurate for slang, clothing, texting and video games. It was published only last year, so it’s very timely – both in characters and themes.
And it was good for an oldster like me to hear what school is like for a boy who is learning to read, and for one who is reluctant to read. The games they play, the things that make a kid cool or uncool, the way school seems like an alien battleground – these were all side discussions inspired by the book.
Jerry Craft has illustrated and written many books. He has a great website and is a very accessible author. Read more about him here.
For a great picture book that brings to light what a super power really is, see this post on the book The Day I Lost My Superpower.
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