Jake the Fake Keeps It Real: Jake the Fake, Book 1

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Jake the Fake Keeps It Real: Jake the Fake, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Funny take on fitting in and self-discovery at art school.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows how creativity flourishes when people have freedom to experiment and improvise. Some art and music references, including Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Walt Whitman, and the Beatles.

Positive Messages

Life is about figuring out what you want to do. It's OK to try something and fail or lose interest -- that's the nature of experimentation. Letting go of limits and taking risks helps free creativity. Other people can help us realize talents we may not otherwise recognize in ourselves. Weird is a matter of perspective. Faking confidence can actually help you on the path to genuine confidence.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jake regards his classmates as weird but doesn't look down on them -- he appreciates their idiosyncrasies even when he doesn't understand them. His sister and her boyfriend are supportive and encouraging. Jake wants to succeed and admires his multitalented sister in particular. Jake's parents are minimally present, but they are warm and positive. His teacher is an over-the-top caricature but appears to love his students and his job.

Violence & Scariness

One goofy depiction of sharks with laser eyes decapitating attacking kangaroos.

Language

Some gross humor with references to "poop," "pee," "snot," and vomit.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jake the Fake Keeps It Real is a laugh-out-loud take on middle school insecurities by the comedic team of actor Craig Robinson (The Office, Hot Tub Time Machine) and Adam Mansbach (Go the F--k to Sleep), with zany artwork by cartoonist Keith Knight (The K Chronicles and (th)ink). Robinson and Mansbach are best known for decidedly mature (but very funny) fare, but they keep it clean here. There's a bit of potty humor with some over-the-top jokes (such as making sculpture out of garbage, or a field trip for students to find their "spirit consumer item"), but the story is full of positivity and treats the art school "weirdos" affectionately. The cast of characters is fairly diverse, including several African-American students.

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What's the story?

In JAKE THE FAKE KEEPS IT REAL, sixth-grader Jake Liston has a secret: He knows he doesn't belong with the gifted and talented students at the Music & Art Academy. He's a decent writer, but he really can't play piano well and he cheated on the math exam. Everyone around him oozes creativity, including his successful older sister. Jake stays afloat by trying to "outweirdo the weirdos," but he's worried he won't be able to fake his way through the big talent show. Unless he can come up with a good plan, Jake is certain he's going to be found out -- and kicked out.

Is it any good?

Comedian Craig Robinson and writer Adam Mansbach riff on the middle-school-anxiety genre with the start of this fun series. Following a sixth-grader who worries he doesn't have the chops to cut it in art school, Jake the Fake Keeps It Real is buoyed by plentiful illustrations by Keith Knight, whose giddy artwork and jokes are packed onto nearly every page.

Robinson and Mansbach steer clear of the snarky tone so common in humor for the tween set. Like Big Nate, Jake is a jokester -- but he clearly likes his classmates and wants to feel at home among them. And he finally does when he starts improvising on "Operation Outweirdo" -- he feels inspired, challenged, excited, and free. Most of the jokes are focused on the art school crowd, but the humor is never unkind. This one clearly is meant for all the kids who feel like weirdos, with great affection.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the idea of "fake it 'til you make it" in Jake the Fake Keeps It Real. How does Jake's mood and attitude change once he starts trying to be weird?

  • Why do you think there are so many middle school books about fitting in? Does this one stand out from the others you've read?

  • How do you feel when your creative juices are flowing? When you're in the zone, what are your mood and energy like?

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