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Planet Middle School
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Planet Middle School
Bloomsbury, 2011
ISBN 978-1599902845

About the book

For twelve years, Joylin Johnson's life has been just fine, thank you very much. A game of basketball with the boys—especially her friend Jake—was all it took to put a smile on her face. Baggy jeans, T-shirt, and hair in a ponytail were easy choices. Then suddenly the world seemed to turn upside down, and everything changed at once. Her best girl friend is now flirting with her best guy friend. Her clothes seem all wrong. Jake is acting weird, and basketball isn't the same. And worst of all, there is this guy, Santiago, who appears from . . . where? What lengths will Joy go to—and whom will she become—to attract his attention?

In short poems that perfectly capture the crazy feelings of adolescence and first crushes, award-winning author Nikki Grimes has crafted a delightful, often hilarious, heart-tugging story.

My thanks to Ashley in Ms. Alseth's class for this beautiful trailer:

Awards and Honors
Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Guide Book to Gift Books 2012
Garden State Teen Book AwardslList 2014
Junior Library Guild selection
NAACP Image Award Nominee
Scholastic Book Club selection


starred review School Library Journal, starred review
“Joylin, 12, has always been comfortable in her own skin. Then strange things start to happen. She begins to notice boys; her forever friend and b-ball buddy, Jake, begins to treat her differently on the court; and Joylin and her best girlfriend, Kaylee, develop different interests. Joylin feels like an “alien” who finds herself in “Planet Middle School” by mistake, “searching for that spaceship/that’s gonna take me home.” She tries to morph from a tomboy in baggy jeans and an old T-shirt into someone more feminine, trying lipstick, heels, and a skirt, each with disastrous results. That she emerges from these oh-so-embarrassing episodes effectively provides reassurance and hope. Joylin’s voice is revealed in spare, well-paced verse. Her recognizable emotions and actions become tangible as she learns that appearances are not always what they seem; that staying true to one’s self is ultimately the most successful way to grow and mature. Young and adult characters are plausible, likable, and supportive of one another. For example, when Joylin realizes that the object of her infatuation does not reciprocate, her mother holds her “close/long enough for me to leave/a puddle on her shoulder,/long enough for me to feel/some of the hurt drain away.” The story is by turns touching and laugh-out-loud funny, and readers will appreciate the time they spend with Joylin, her family, and her friends as they live, grow, and learn as individuals and together.

“The title of this slim novel (written in free-verse poems) could have been Planet Puberty. Each entry captures universal moments of confusion, anger, guilt, and fun through the viewpoint of 12-year-old African American Joy as things change with her friends, family, and body. ... The core of the story is her awkward relationships with her longtime best friends, especially Jake: suddenly things are not as relaxed as they were, and she behaves badly. This will spark discussion in the middle-school classroom.”

The Horn Book Magazine
“Twelve-year-old Joy has always been athletic, and she can hold her own in any neighborhood basketball game playing against boys her age, including her longtime friend, Jake. But once she starts middle school, she feels self-conscious about being thought of as a tomboy. ... Through breezy prose poems Grimes explores the tension between individuality and gender-role conformity and takes on young adolescent concerns such as changing friendships, the shift in boy/girl relationships, and first crushes. Her realistic novel has solid middle-school appeal and avoids preaching. ... What does matter are her friendships with KeeLee and Jake, and the people in her life who know the real Joy.”

Kirkus Reviews
“... her accessible verse and clear themes of self-acceptance and open-mindedness ring true. ... A work that should help adolescent readers find the courage and humor to grow into the individuals they already are.”

“This brief verse novel provides short snapshots of Joylin’s life. Reminiscent of stream of consciousness, it gives the reader the inside track on Joylin’s chaotic emotions and experiences: the misery of cramps, falling in her mom’s high heels right in front of Santiago, and putting makeup on all wrong. Her feelings swing from raw to poignant. Its length and subject matter will appeal to middle schoolers going through similar experiences.”

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