Review by Leslie Crenna, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2013
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Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are

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Must-read graphic novel teaches relatable tween lessons

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts
  • Health & Wellness

  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Character & SEL
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
Great for:
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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5 images

Pros: The authentic peer-to-peer narrative emphasizes tolerance and empathy in a relatable way.

Cons: There's no built-in audio narration for the text- and graphics-based story.

Bottom Line: A hip, compelling read for tweens and teens looking for guidance and understanding of common social situations.

Getting tweens and teens to talk about personal and social issues can be like pulling teeth ... adult teeth. Administrators and classroom or subject-area teachers could recommend this as an at-home resource for parents expressing concern about the middle school transition or who are seeing mood changes since school started. English or social studies teachers might go one step further by leading group discussions following a group read. They can use the opportunity to help students practice speaking and listening skills like defining roles, acknowledging contributions, and demonstrating multiple perspectives through reflection. Kids could be assigned in groups or individually to create graphic novels on social topics of their own choosing or to write alternate endings for the scenarios in the app. Adult or peer counselors could use the stories in a similar way or to spark individual conversations or appointments at a later time.

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Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are is the first in a series of app-based graphic novels written by anti-bullying activist Annie Fox and illustrated by Matt Kindt. The characters in the story -- Jack, Jen, Abby, Mateo, Chris, and Michelle -- help each other cope with middle school and their own self-doubts.  Mateo gets teased about his height. Abby gets flak from her mom about her weight. Michelle makes mature observations and asks tough questions but has her faults, too, including when she flips out on Abby and tells her to shut up. When Michelle apologizes, Abby shows her how to say “I'm busy” in a nice way by doing it. The variety of troubles each character must deal with should appeal to youngsters who are undoubtedly facing similiar challenges.

The app version of a graphic novel that adds chapter navigation, audio, and zoom to the experience, Be Confident in Who You Are's watercolor-painted illustrations are hip and well-drawn. The info page, which acts as a main menu, explains navigation controls and gives chapter icons for jumping around its eight chapters. Kids can double-tap to zoom in or out of panels.

Through a discussion-rich narrative and some action, kids can learn to identify emotions, reflect on personal strengths and weaknesses, respect peer viewpoints, build friendships, persevere through difficulties, and put their troubles into perspective. Kids consider issues with the characters such as popularity, patience, put-downs, homework, candor, and self-confidence. The story carries tween and teen lingo most of the time, making it easy to accept as authentic. Navigation is well-explained, and kids can jump to the eight chapters via icons.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

This compelling graphic novel uses real-life kid language and attitudes to draw tweens and teens into the story. Hand-drawn graphics are grown-up enough to appeal to teens.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Kid-based narrative helps kids feel comfortable considering sensitive issues. Story line emphasizes peer group empathy and tolerance. Kids learn by watching others and reflecting on what they see.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Print editions of the Middle School Confidential books include quizzes, tips, empowerment tools, and more. Audio of character dialogue would expand accessibility.

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Carolyn H. , Other
Nagel Middle School
Cincinnati, United States
It is valuable to use with students who are struggling with the transition to middle school.
The app was easy to use but needed more options for more variety and differentiation.
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