Back in the Day Books #1

And so begins another series I’m trying in my continuing attempt to be a better book blogger! This one is called, as the title says:

Back in the Day Books

It is, in case there is any question (which there probably is), a series in which I’ll re-read and revisit an assortment of random books I liked ‘back in the day’, i.e. when I was a kid. This will be accomplished via a box of books from back in the day (have I said that phrase too much already?) that I ‘rescued’ from my parents’ garage. I honestly have no idea what’s in the box, aside from a couple Beverly Hills 90210 novelizations that are on top. My method will be to dig around, grab a book, read it, and report back to you.

Hopefully this will be interesting for you, the people I’m assuming might read this post.

And I started already!

I dug around, grabbed, a book, and read Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You by Barthe DeClements.

I don’t remember my history with this particular book. I know that I wrote my name in the cover, in surprisingly sloppy cursive (I usually have very neat handwriting… so perhaps I’d just learned cursive?), and the cover tells me that Barthe DeClements also wrote Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade and I remember that more. But my fifth grade teacher was a lot better than my sixth grade teacher so maybe I can chalk it up to better memories overall.

Anyway, not surprising for a book marked Reading Level 5, I read Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You in a day. It is 146 pages long and was originally published in 1985 (I wasn’t even in school in 1985, so I must’ve read a reprint or something). Given when it was originally published, I was curious to see how it has stood the test of time, if it had a message that was still relevant to sixth graders today, if it brought back any memories, and if it was worth keeping or not.

I won’t be keeping it. I don’t have kids and I feel sure that there are better books out now for that awkward period when you’re not quite a kid and not quite a teenager that my nephew and niece will find helpful.

I still don’t remember having read the book before. Maybe vaguely, but that’d be extremely vague. There was no moment of “oh, that’s why I’ve kept this book so long!” or “I remember now!” It was just… a book that I read once, a fact I take for granted given my name in the cover.

The message of Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You is still relevant. Helen, the lead character, struggles with learning disabilities (specifically perceptual learning problems that Thomas Edison, Nelson Rockefeller, and Albert Einstein had) that cause her to switch and mix up which letters like b and d are supposed to go, and to drop silent letters like e from the ends of works like ‘puke.’ Helen sees this as a burden she carries, something to be ashamed of. The book is about Helen overcoming that shame to get help through targeted classes that help her train her brain to be as good at reading as it is as math and arts. It handles the way her mother worries about the perceptions of others toward her and her daughter, and Helen seems to have inherited that. These things still happen today, that much is still very much true and will likely always be true. That makes this book valuable in that sense.

However, it doesn’t stand the test of time very well. Not in terms of language, political correctness, and fair and balanced relationships. One chapter is called “The Retard Room,” for example. Helen’s nickname at school, even with administrators, is “Bad Helen” and she embraces that nickname with sometimes cruel jokes and occasionally outright vandalism of the school itself. She gets away with it all. And her father goes behind her mother’s back to sign her up for the special classes, which is good on it’s face because she needs them but not an example of open, good family life.

So I’ve gone ‘back in the day’ with Barthe DeClements’ Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You and not had an altogether bad time. Not an altogether good one either, but no regrets. I won’t, however, be keeping or donating the book because I neither need it or think it’s something that would be noticed at a secondhand store.

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