Dork Diaries, authored by Rachel Renée Russell, depicts awful behavior toward others. For example, in Tales From a Not-So-Perfect Pet Sitter, one character (MacKenzie) rants about the narrator breaking rules. The narrator responds “OMG! I was SO angry, I wanted to slap that girl into tomorrow…” (63). This is just one snippet of a book riddled with this kind of dialogue.
This material sells, presumably, because it reads more like a script for a kids’ tabloid talk show than a quality piece of literature with good dialogue and messages.
Below are two more examples of poor behavior from this book, not immediately identified for the young reader as wrong:
Max’s grandma insists her archfrenemy, Trixie Claire Jewel-Hollister, is behind it. They’ve been rivals since high school. Mrs. Wallabanger [Max’s grandma] has been winning first place in all the local flower shows lately, and she says Trixie Hollister is a rich, spoiled, jealous SORE LOSER. (143)
“Sorry, but MacKenzie totally deserved every fun-filled puppy poopy moment!” (260)
Such mean statements; and one coming from a grandmother!
What value does anger and gossip written on paper for children to read offer? What does it teach about communication and civil behavior? What does it teach to children who need good role models? What does it teach about positive and healthy friendships?
While adults are pushing anti-bullying campaigns, many simultaneously hand them books that illustrate bullying and vindictive behavior, sometimes for children who have not yet even considered the behaviors. While I don’t agree with the book contents, the problem sits with the schools (e.g. libraries, book fairs) that are placing a large number of these books in libraries in lieu of quality literature.
Dork Diaries ¹ is riddled with negative language and descriptions that feel endless; spreading from one page into the next, and most often accentuated in bold letters and caps. Words and phrases like the following abound (many variants of these words are used and repeated through the books): drama queen, selfie, worthless, sociopaths, pathological liar, fake, OMG, gossip, rumors, scandalous, freaked, trashing, expelled, frenemy, hate, evil, destroy, self-absorbed, dying, pathetic, wrong, dreaded, drama-fest, trashy, sick, tired, steal, diva, fiasco, awful, nasty, stomachs pumped, stupid, pity party, “CCP (Cute, Cool, & Popular)” (Fabulous 1), bad, terrible, puke, massive headache, poor, nasty, feared, cruddy, ruined, miserable, crazy, worthless, trashy, queen bee, horrible, complete meltdown, awful, hissy fit, thief, snake, crawl, die, dying, wrong, bailing, tyrant, mortal enemies, guts, all washed up, disastrous, nuts, stressful, rudely, lied, liar, shoved, ugly, screaming, nightmare, wannabe, and stolen.
Do authors get paid for name-dropping brands? Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life (Book #1 in the series) mentions iPhone, eBay, McDonalds, and Godiva Chocolate, and Starbucks in the first 16 pages of the book!
The first sentence of this book is telling: “Sometimes I wonder if my mom is BRAIN DEAD” (1). The narrator indicates her mother is irrefutably “…CLINICALLY BRAIN DEAD!!” because her mother gave her a diary (10). Where is the balance and perspective like the importance of appreciating a gift from a loving mother? What is this teaching a child about being respectful? The character goes on to describe one who writes in a diary as a “TOTAL DORK” (11). What perspective would we be missing today without diaries of historical figures who detail their thoughts and experiences, like in The Diary of Anne Frank?
The author appears to place unbalanced importance on cell phones and popularity in Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life. The narrator describes how having a low quality phone “…can totally RUIN your social life” (6). The narrator also explains she would not use her diary to reflect on “My Dreamy Boyfriend, My First Kiss” (13). One wonders why this page (13) was excluded from the first 16 pages shown in Amazon’s “Look Inside”.
Another passage from this book discusses the narrator’s “That’s So Hot!” magazine and its statement that the “…secret to happiness is the four F’s: Friends, Fun, Fashion, & Flirting…” (seen in Axis Online, Chapter: Wednesday, September 4).
Another discussion about kissing and the narrator’s pre-kiss feelings occurs in Tales from a Not-So-Perfect Pet Sitter. The narrator’s second kiss with a boy is interrupted by a classmate who proceeds to flirt with the boy, followed with a hate filled exchange between the girls. The whole event carries on for twelve pages (16-28).
The narrator’s thoughts in Dork Diaries seem largely remiss of moral or ethical contemplation. She often appears to incite and frequently enhance drama in social situations.
I felt disheartened as I contemplated the messages young girls are receiving as they read these books obtained from the school library or scholastic book fairs (purchased during school hours). There are excellent high quality books that could be placed in libraries and book fairs; books so much more age appropriate that offer good messages and inspiration for young children.
Is any of this appropriate for grades 1-5? The material is not stamped for grades 1-5, but instead grades 4-8, or ages 9-13. In reality, these books are marketed to younger children in schools. They are being checked out at school libraries and purchased at school book fairs at ages much younger than nine. Even if a child were nine years old, it is poor quality material.
Other sample quotes that characterize unkind and awful behavior in this series:
“I wouldn’t WANT your PATHETIC life…” (Friendly 146)
“And YOU’RE a pathological LIAR!” (Friendly 228)
“She’s so UGLY she might BREAK your camera!” (Friendly 229)
“MacKenzie was CRUEL and RUTHLESS…she rudely INTERRUPTED my almost SECOND KISS with…” (Perfect 22)
“By grabbing her wretched little neck and force-feeding…” (Perfect 22)
“…would you like a Tic Tac breath mint? All that GARBAGE you’ve been SPEWING about me is making your breath STINK!” (Perfect 25)
“Unless your name is Google, you need to stop acting like you KNOW everything…” (Perfect 27)
Is this the type behavior you want your children to read or experience? Promoting materialism, negativity, disrespect, and age-inappropriate topics and behavior can rob young children of their innocence, and it models behavior we’d prefer they’d never learn.
So when you hear some surprising phrases come from your child, check the books they are reading. It might be quite an eye-opener! A child might not have heard it; it might have been read in a school library book!
in reference to the three Dork Diaries books below.
Russell, Rachel Renée. Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life. Aladdin, 2009.
—. Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Friendly Frenemy. Aladdin, November 2016.
—. Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Perfect Pet Sitter. Aladdin, July 2016.