Review by Amanda Bindel, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2014
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Middle School Confidential 3: What's Up with My Family?

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Relatable characters, situations help kids build family relationships

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.
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Pros: Scenarios in the quizzes are informative and offer relevant discussion material.

Cons: Despite an excellent range of diversity, not every family type is represented.

Bottom Line: Effective tool prompts reflection and discussion for social-emotional learning.

The series' website includes a tech-integrated lesson plan for small groups, as well as discussion questions and activities. For middle schools with an advisory class or class period focused on SEL, this -- along with the other two books in the series -- would make an excellent unit to include. ELA teachers could incorporate the graphic novel to complement other class readings, having students compare and contrast the families in two or more works. ELA teachers could also use the chapters in the story and the tips at the end of each as writing prompts to inspire personal, reflective writing. 

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Middle School Confidential 3: What's Up with My Family? is the third in an app-based graphic novel series written by anti-bullying activist Annie Fox and illustrated by Matt Kindt. This book continues the story of six middle schoolers with diverse racial and family backgrounds who dealt with self-esteem issues in Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are and learned about friendship in Middle School Confidential 2: Real Friends versus the Other Kind. Now they learn how to get along with, and appreciate, the families they have -- warts and all. The kids work through issues involving a new strict stepdad and goofy little stepbrother, a single mom and a new relationship with an estranged father's family, a big family that's embarrassingly close, old-fashioned parents' rules and a spying little brother, a mom's pressure to lose weight, and a little sister who's always in the way.

Each of the app's eight short chapters focuses on a different tween's relationship with his or her family, and ends with a few quiz questions and an inspirational tip recognizing the challenge of each family's dynamic in a respectful way. Kids can zoom in on panels for easier reading, and skip the quizzes by swiping past the quiz title page.

Kids can learn to develop relationships and get along with others, especially those in their own families, as they read and discuss the families in the stories. They'll learn that families come in many forms, but all are important. Not every type of family is represented (notably missing are kids raised by grandparents, foster parents, or other caregivers), but most students will likely find at least one character here they can relate to. 

No option is provided to have the text read aloud, but the sound effects add to the mood of the stories, giving insight into the feelings of the characters. The takeaway message is that no one -- no family type, no parent, no kid -- is perfect, but we can all work on getting along better with those we love, and those skills can transfer into all relationships. Quiz questions present real scenarios and ask students how they'd handle them, and then explain whether and why their choice was a good one. 

Overall Rating

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

Students will likely find at least one character they can identify with, and the graphic novel format, with realistic writing and expressive illustrations, can be engaging for middle schoolers.

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

In a format middle schoolers appreciate, the graphic novel uses a diverse group of kids to demonstrate how to maneuver family relationships and offers concrete ways to improve them.

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

Clear instructions show how to navigate the book, but it's pretty intuitive anyway. Quiz questions are thoughtful and thought-provoking, and students see explanations of both right and wrong answers.

Common Sense Reviewer
Amanda Bindel Classroom teacher

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