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My Life Series

Book review by
Carrie Kingsley, Common Sense Media
My Life Series Book Poster Image
Boy navigates friends, family, tech in fast-paced series.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

A bit of academic content sprinkled throughout, such as animal trivia and historical references. Line illustrations of vocabulary words in the margins of each page are a nice way for readers to learn new or challenging words.

Positive Messages

Derek's family and friends value authenticity, truth, responsibility -- and especially keeping a positive attitude.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Derek's family is loving and supportive, and the other adults are kind. 

Violence
Sex

All very age-appropriate and mild, such as mentions of girls liking boys, and how Derek wouldn't mind if a certain girl paid more attention to him.

Language
Consumerism

Big focus on social media, likes and followers, popularity and what it takes to get there.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Janet Tashjian's My Life series -- with titles like My Life as a Book, My Life as a YouTuber, and My Life as a Meme -- is about a Southern California middle school boy's ups and downs with friends, family, his cell phone, and social media. The books are stuffed with catchphrases and pop culture references, and the focus on technology adds a risk of them being outdated when, for example, Instagram gets surpassed by some new tech trend. There are some positive lessons about kindness, honesty, friendship, and perseverance, but they can be a little heavy-handed. Emerging readers will like the large font and plentiful stick figure/line drawing illustrations by Jake Tashjian, the author's son, which highlight some vocabulary words on each page and help make the books eye-catching page-turners. Jake Tashjian is on the autism spectrum and used the same technique to improve his own vocabulary when he was in school. He was 14 when he illustrated the first My Life book and continues to partner with his mother as an adult.

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What's the story?

In the MY LIFE SERIES, middle schooler Derek and his friends try to navigate things like feeling left out, getting bullied, losing a pet, getting embarrassed at school, and more. The series has a particular focus on the role of technology in kids' lives, the ways it's both positive and negative for society. Derek's parents, the kind and funny veterinarian mom and cartoonist dad, try to help him find a love of reading, deal with the monkey they're fostering without exploiting it on YouTube, come back from the embarrassment of being a wig-wearing stunt double, care for a spoiled dog in a fire evacuation area, and more.

Is it any good?

These books are a fast read, but the series tries too hard to connect with young readers, sometimes coming across as an adult trying to write like a kid would think and speak. The lessons can be clunky; when talking about how much he uses his phone, Derek says he knows they think he's on it too much but that memes, chats, YouTube, etc., is how he and his friends communicate so he knows they understand that, too. There's no subtlety here, with readers explicitly told every time Derek makes an important realization or when there's a life lesson learned.

Kids will enjoy the humor and learn some advanced vocabulary. And for those who enjoy timely references, these books are full of them. For example, in Book 8, My Life as a Meme, released in 2019, the Malibu fires of 2018 figure in the plot.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Derek and his friends use technology in the My Life series. They're often on their devices, and use them to communicate with one another and the world. How does their device time compare with yours?

  • Derek deals with some serious issues  -- academic trouble, cyberbullying, etc. -- that most kids deal with at some point. Have you ever faced something like Derek or his friends have?

  • What other books have illustrations like the ones in this series? 

Book details

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