Barbara Robinson has produced a wonderful, humorous book for children that, as all realistic fiction must do, tells a good story while at the same time addressing issues of concern to young people. The Herdmans are referred to as “the worst kids in the history of the world,” and yet, even when they are at their worst, there is nothing malicious or vindictive about them. They are real children with problems similar to those still encountered by many adolescents. Because of their circumstances—coming from a poor family, living in less-than-excellent surroundings, and being visited consistently by a social worker who reports on them but never attempts to improve their conditions—the Herdmans are acting out inappropriate behaviors in their attempt to show the world that they do not mind being different from everyone else and in fact go out of their way to do so.
As the story unfolds, a number of issues pertinent to adolescents are addressed: living in a family, finding peer acceptance, making friends, growing toward maturity, defining one’s identity, and living in a diverse world. The author carefully blends these issues into the actions and conversations of the principal characters, showing the evolution of both middle-class and impoverished characters. Because of the differences in the ages of the children, readers of various ages can identify with multiple characters and their situations. These associations help readers discover that their...
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