Unbelievably Boring Bart

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Unbelievably Boring Bart Book Poster Image
Fun story of the middle school trials of shy game designer.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Doesn't teach about coding, but shows what hard work can accomplish when you learn how. Explains some terms like "MMORPG."

Positive Messages

Getting revenge isn't as satisfying as you think it will be. Connections to others are important, even for shy people. Technology gets in the way of making connections to peers and family if you don't eventually talk to others face to face.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bart is quiet, often too caught up in the creation of his game to connect with others -- or finish homework. He overcomes some shyness to share his gifts and starts to make friends when he talks face to face with his peers and his father. He seeks revenge from a few bullies anonymously, shows remorse for it. Bart offers his game for free, wants no part in the notoriety other kids at school are after. He just wants to feel more exciting than he looks on the outside. One friend Bart makes is an African American girl in a wheelchair.

Violence & Scariness

Bullies trip Bart in the hall, tease him, steal things. Some kids so involved in a game on their phones that they're not watching for traffic. Mention that Bart's mother left.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Unbelievably Boring Bart is co-written by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski, with illustrations by Xavier Bonet. Patterson is the author of more New York Times best-sellers than anyone ever. His kids' series include Middle School and I Funny. Unbelievably Boring Bart is a fun middle school story with messages about connecting with others and the downside of getting revenge. The violence is light: Bullies trip Bart in the hall, tease him, and steal things. The main character invents an online video game, so expect mentions of YouTube channels for gamers and video games. There's also a Snapchat approximation called Slaptalk. Players of Bart's game defeat aliens by insulting them, and Bart only allows for PG-level insults.

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What's the story?

In UNBELIEVABLY BORING BART, Bart lives the dull life of the new kid at a Southern California middle school -- on the outside. Beneath this facade, he's a fighter of aliens that only he can see. They live in the game he coded called Hecklr, which allows the player to run amok around his new town zapping electricity-stealing aliens with creative insults. After he shares his game with just one person anonymously, it catches on at school the way game trends do. Suddenly everyone, including the bullies and some of the teachers, is pointing phones at invisible aliens and chasing them down. When a YouTube gamer channel comes to town to play his game live, Bart nearly cracks under the pressure. 

Is it any good?

This book is the perfect bait for young video game lovers who dream, like Bart, of reaching their creative coding potential. While it's hard to believe a 12-year-old designed a game a lot like Pokémon GO in one summer all by himself, it's fun for kids to imagine such a feat. And to have everyone at school play it and love it -- even better.

There's a moment when Bart pretends he's really fighting aliens before he confesses it's just the game he invented -- that distracts the reader and makes Bart a bit less likable. But he'll earn readers' admiration again when he decides to keep his game anonymous and free. He's just a guy who wants a few friends at his new school and a connection with his dad, who's not tech-savvy in the least. As this shy coder comes out of his shell, Unbelievably Boring Bart shows a lot of heart.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Bart's social life in Unbelievably Boring Bart. He ignores his neighbor and kids during lunch at school to code and fix bugs. Are there times technology gets in the way of friendships in your life? How does Bart eventually come out of his shell?

  • Do you think it's possible for a 12-year-old to create such a complex game on his own over one summer? Does this make you want to learn how to code?

  • How does Bart explain his game to his dad in ways that will help them connect? Do different generations in your house share a love for video games? What game does Hecklr remind you of?

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For kids who love tales of coders and middle school stories

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