(Image from Barnes & Noble)
(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for My Life as a Cartoonist, it may inadvertently ruin plot surprises from earlier My Life As ... books. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)
When a new kid comes rolling into Derek Fallon's classroom in a wheelchair, a brilliant idea lights up Derek's brain. The Fallons have been fostering a capuchin monkey who will eventually be trained to help assist disabled people with daily tasks (a real thing, by the way—check out Helping Hands Monkey Helpers). Umberto is disabled; maybe Frank the monkey could be his companion! It really is a perfect plan.
So, why isn't Umberto into the idea? And why is the new kid picking on Derek? It makes no sense. Things go from bad to worse when Umberto starts stealing Derek's cartoon ideas. Even more annoying is that Umberto draws Super Frank better than Derek, the comic strip's creator. Derek is at the end of his rope. What should he do? He's being bullied by a boy in a wheelchair—he can't fight back against a disabled kid. Or can he?
I haven't read the first two books in Janet Tashjian's My Life As ... series, but I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed the third installment, My Life as a Cartoonist. I love that the author features a disabled character who feels real. Umberto isn't a tragic figure or a saint or anything but a normal kid with personality traits that are both charming and annoying. Derek is likewise flawed. As the two of them learn to appreciate each other, they teach the reader some valuable lessons about kindness, acceptance, and putting someone else's needs before your own. The story doesn't feel preachy, though. In fact, it's fast, it's funny, and it's full of heart. Simple cartoons drawn by Tashjian's son, Jake, enhance the tale. Jeff Kinney fans will find much to love about My Life as a Cartoonist and its fellows. One reviewer described the series as "a kinder, gentler Wimpy Kid with all the fun and more plot." I couldn't agree more.
(Readalikes: Other books in the My Life As ... series by Janet Tashjian and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
To the FTC, with love: Another library