A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Rodman Philbrick's Freak the Mighty is a wonderful story of friendship between two outcast boys who are bullied. One main character has a learning disability and lives with his grandparents because his father was put in prison for murdering his mother. He and his best friend, who's disabled and uses crutches to walk, endure cruel and emotionally painful treatment at school from their fellow students for being "different." Despite the inherent seriousness of these themes, kids will enjoy the funny writing, quirky and likable characters, high imagination, and suspense. The book also includes a humorous dictionary.
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What's the story?
A hulking boy with learning disabilities and a brilliant boy who uses crutches due to a physical disability become strong as they undertake imaginary quests and fight all-too-real criminals. The only thing they can't conquer is time. Max knows that people -- even his own grandparents -- fear him because he looks just like his imprisoned father, who's known as Killer Kane. He's huge, he can hardly read or write, and he lives in his grandparents' basement. But his new neighbor, Kevin, in his tiny, differently formed body, seems willing to accept him. The two become close friends, assuming a new identity when Max begins carrying Kevin on his shoulders. Kevin dubs them Freak the Mighty, and they wander their town using Max's mobility and Kevin's brain to conjure up exciting quests. With Kevin's help, Max learns to read and is allowed out of his special-education classes to join Max in his honors courses. But when Max's father is paroled, Max relives the horrors of his past, while Kevin tries to rescue him.
Is it any good?
Funny, scary, suspenseful, and wise, this book can build empathy and help young readers accept kids who seem different from them. When you don't fit in, and you're a kid, what do you do? Max just suffers alone, compressing his emotions inside his massive body. Kevin fights back by letting his intelligence and his imagination soar beyond his deformed body. Even if he can't save himself, Kevin can save Max. He teaches Max how to use his imagination to create exciting adventures: Houses become castles, swimming pools become moats, and a hard-boiled motorcycle mama becomes a damsel in distress. And he teaches readers compassion and that everyone is valuable and has something to contribute.
Through Kevin's courage in the face of his illness, Freak the Mighty shows the importance of not giving up when faced with difficulty, and readers see how Kevin inspires Max's progress. Kevin uses his vocabulary as a weapon and teaches Max how to use the dictionary, his favorite book. Max says that Kevin "pulls it out like Arnold Schwarzenegger pulling out a machine gun or something," showing readers the power of words.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Freak the Mighty deals with bullying. How do Max and Freak respond to the cruel and relentless teasing from their classmates?
Does the friendship between Freak and Max seem realistic? Have you ever had a good friend who was very different from you?
How does Freak help Max see himself in a different light?
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