Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Middle School Confidential by Annie Fox, M.Ed

When I was pregnant with our oldest daughter, my husband and I took a labor and delivery class along with several other first time parents-to-be.  We watched birthing videos, learned how to time contractions, and to simulate the dreaded contractions, I practiced holding ice cubes in my hand for as long as I could stand it.

I think at one point the nurse that was teaching the class sensed that the mothers-to-be were overwhelmed (it might've been the gasping and the sobbing of several of us during the birthing videos that tipped her off).  It was at this moment that I believe she gave some very interesting advice.  She told us that no matter what, our bodies know what they're doing.  We can take a class, read birthing stories, practice our breathing, but in the end we have to have faith that our bodies were made for this.

She then compared it to going through adolescence.  She said, "When you were going through your teenage years, you didn't read a book to tell you how to become a teenager.  Your body just did it."

I took comfort in the fact that my body knew what to do despite my being scared, nervous, and in a tremendous amount of pain. But it didn't make me stop reading about other women's birthing stories, or looking through pregnancy books.  I was looking for a connection to other women who've been through what I was going to go through. Perhaps I was trying to "steal" some of their confidence.

And while I think the nurse was correct in telling us that our bodies know what they're doing when we go through adolescence, that doesn't always stop our fear or our pain.  Sometimes what we're afraid of doesn't have anything to do with our bodies at all. I remember being ashamed that I still wanted to play with Cabbage Patch and Barbie dolls when the girls I hung out with were no longer interested in them. I also couldn't figure out why everyone wanted to wear jeans when sweatpants were clearly way more comfortable. But the worst was this question: why don't the girls that I've been friends with since kindergarten want to be friends with me anymore?

Enter the Middle School Confidential series by Annie Fox, M.Ed.  If I were to create a "Middle School Toolbox" for my girls when they reach this stage, these books would be one of the first things to go in there.  They are packed with easy to read informatioin on how to not only get through Middle School, but how to thrive during these years.

One of the aspects that I like about these books is that they read like magazines.  Kids can look at a few pages and easily take something away that is applicable to their lives.  A lot of times, when I sit down with a magazine, I turn to the articles that I want to get information from first.  In Ms. Fox's books, the Table of Contents are clean and easy to read, and the titles of each chapter, such as "Friendship Dilemmas," or "Struggling with Siblings," make it clear what the student will read about. And like a magazine, the reading isn't all article reading.  Sometimes there are cartoons, sometimes there are questions to get readers thinking, and sometimes there are quotes from students.  All in a colorful format, these books will be great resources to return to again and again.

I really liked the quotes from other kids that Fox incorporates.  I think readers who are going through adolescence will find comfort and confidence in knowing others are going through the same things they are. I also think that these books are great resources for parents and teachers.  For example, if I were still teaching, I would incorporate the section, "Ads Mess with your Mind" from Be Confident In Who You Are.  The questions Fox asks students help them analyze commercials they see on TV and in magazines. This would be an excellent activity to get kids talking about how they see themselves and how they should see themselves.

Like giving birth, adolescence is not an easy thing to go through.  It can be scary, and painful, and confusing.  But I don't think that's all it can be.  There can be laughter and good memories, too.  Yes, I can remember with stinging clarity the day I walked up to say hello to someone that had been my friend since third grade, only to realize that she was no longer a friend. (And this all happened without words.  How do girls do that?)  But I also remember just as vividly the day I met the girl who would be my best friend and eventually stand up for me at my wedding.  There are stories like this one by a lovely blogger named Yuliya that capture the pain and confusion of growing up, but there are also stories like "Seventh Grade" by Gary Soto that can make us laugh. I want my girls to surround themselves with these stories because I believe it will give their experience a voice.  However, I also want them to read the Middle School Confidential series because it will give them tools to add to their experience as they grow up. 

I admire what Ms. Fox did with this series.  I think that it is a good resource for librarians, teachers, and students in middle schools.  Like the nurse in my labor and delivery class, she is giving kids information on what they need to know, and at the same time, giving them the confidence that their bodies know what to do.  Even when it feels exactly the opposite.


  1. Wow, what a cool sounding book! You know, my son turns 9 this weekend and I feel like I'm already entering murkier waters. . .unchartered territory with him. He's still so sweet and so lovable, but he's tall, talks a different language with his friends and is doing geometry. I think we'll need that book soon:)

  2. Callie, I love this and can't believe I haven't heard of these books! I need to look into getting them for Katie....she will be at GMS next terrifies me!

  3. I need to get this book for my daughter. It looks awesome ;)

  4. That age group is so hard. I have two kids that have just gone through this and it's tough. If there is a book out there (and if they will read it without rolling their eyes) that's fantastic. Thanks for following my blog and for your comment. :)

  5. Definitely sounds like a great selection of books! My niece could use this..I love what your instructor said to you...very wise and so true!

  6. Wish they had that book when I was younger. Did you like your labor and delivery class? I never went to one and everyone I knew skipped out on it too. Wonder if it really is helpful because well, labor and delivery is so unpredictable!