Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Common Sense Media says

Offbeat imagination rules in funny, poignant graphic novel.





What parents need to know

Educational value

Though Timmy basically refuses to try to succeed in school, Timmy Failure readers will get an impression of what (other) students learn in middle school.

Positive messages

Kids can learn from Timmy's example that lying to cover up mistakes creates more problems than solutions. There's also an implicit message that if you appeal to a reluctant student on his or her level, and turn learning into an activity the kid can relate to, you can stimulate the kid's interest in schoolwork.

Positive role models

Timmy's struggling single mom sets a loving, honest example for her son; she's candid with him about their difficult financial situation and downsizes their home, but she continues to make his schooling and his feelings priorities. Timmy's teacher, Mr. Jenkins (whom Timmy calls New Guy), appeals to Timmy's interests and imagination to encourage Timmy's success in school.


Not surprisingly, this graphic novel from an acclaimed comic strip author includes plenty of cartoon violence. Frisbees and balls bounce off of Timmy's head wherever he goes, and when an out-of-control Cadillac plows through a wall and into a teacher's living room, Timmy walks away without a scratch.


One of Timmy's female classmates has a crush on him. She tells him she adores him and pelts his bedroom window with Hershey's Kisses. In one chapter, she hugs him.

Not applicable

Lots of candy brands are mentioned early in the book: Kit Kat, Twix, Mars, Almond Joy, Snickers, Abba-Zaba, and Hershey's Kisses. The lunch lady gives Timmy Rice Krispies Treats. Timmy's mom dates a man who drives a Cadillac, and they bring a six-pack of Coke on a picnic. Timmy borrows his mom's Segway.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is a graphic novel about a clueless 11-year-old boy who fancies himself a great detective. It's a funny, off-the-wall yet poignant look at the life of an unusual kid who's way longer on imagination than on ability to focus. The first children's book from Stephan Pastis, creator of the popular Pearls Before Swine comic strip and the bestselling Pearls compilation, Larry in Wonderland, it contains several instances of cartoon violence (Timmy being pelted by balls and Frisbees, a non-injury car crash), several mentions of name-brand sweets (candies, Coke), and Timmy lies to his mom on occasion.

Parents say

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Kids say

What's the story?

Eleven-year-old Timmy Failure fancies himself the world's greatest detective. He's not. But he does have the world's laziest, most unusual business partner: a 1,500-pound polar bear named Total, which may or may not be a figment of Timmy's extremely offbeat, overactive imagination. In his attempts to solve cases involving missing Halloween candy or stolen shoes, Timmy -- head of the Total Failure detective agency -- loses his mom's Segway and blunders his way into a series of mishaps. He also fails to perform acceptably in school. The larger mystery becomes: How will Timmy recover the missing Segway, and can he improve his grades enough to keep from being held back a grade?

Is it any good?


There's a charm to this off-the-wall, slapstick graphic novel that makes it almost as poignant as it is funny. Timmy's (often self-created) problems and his long-suffering mother are realistic and touching; readers will worry about his grades and his blunders. On the whole, Stephen Pastis has created a sweet, hilarious set of oddball characters that will make readers crack up, and will help unusual kids feel "normal."

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about graphic novels. Why do you think theyr'e so popular? What others have you read?

  • Some people have compared this book to Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. How is Timmy Failure like Wimpy Kid, and how is it different?

  • Read the author's Pearls Before Swine comic strip in the newspaper, and then try making your own comic.

Book details

Author:Stephan Pastis
Illustrator:Stephan Pastis
Topics:Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs, Wild animals
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Candlewick Press
Publication date:February 26, 2013
Number of pages:304
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Read aloud:10 - 12
Read alone:10 - 12
Available on:Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made was written by

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About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written bySees Little November 8, 2014

Depressing, but enjoyable


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