Sunday, March 24, 2013

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, by Stephan Pastis (ages 9-12)

Funny books draw kids to them, time and time again. Whether it's classics like Ramona the Pest or modern bestsellers like Big Nate or Diary of a Wimpy Kid, kids love books that make them laugh out loud or giggle to themselves. Tonight's monthly #titletalk chat on Twitter focused on funny books. As a good friend Cathy Potter wrote about her students, "The more they laugh, the more they read, and the more the read, the more proficient they become as readers. #titletalk" So true.

A new favorite funny book in our school library is Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, by Stephan Pastis. Hand this to fans of Big Nate or Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Timmy Failure:
Mistakes Were Made
by Stephan Pastis
Candlewick, 2013
ages 9-12
preview book on Google Books
available at your local library and on Amazon
Timmy Failure is the eleven-year old founder of the detective agency Total Failure with his best friend and sidekick Total, a 1,500 pound polar bear. Timmy is utterly serious and entirely convinced of his own importance, even though readers are constantly aware of his incompetence. Kids love being in on the joke, being able to laugh at Timmy's constant troubles and his clueless arrogance.

Timmy is sure that his detective business will rake in millions, but he's willing to start small with cases of missing Halloween candy or stolen shoes. At each step, though, he blindly ignores clues staring him right in the face - much to the reader's amusement. As Timmy starts investigating his classmate Gunnar's missing candy, he walks down the hallway past Gunnar's little brother's room and notes:
"Gabe is sitting on his bed, surrounded by candy wrappers. There is chocolate smeared all over his face and an empty plastic pumpkin on the floor. Always on the lookout for clues, I make an important note in my detective log:
Gabe: not tidy."
My students love the drawings throughout this story - whether it's of Gabe caught in the act with chocolate all over his face, or Total chomping away in the client's garbage cans. Pastis uses his experience creating the popular Pearls Before Swine cartoon for more than visual humor, though. His story relies on the fast pacing and humor that is the mainstay of comic strips. Timmy comes from a long line of losers we love to laugh at, from Charlie Brown to Calvin (and Hobbes).

It takes quite a bit of sophisticated reading skills to get all the humor going on here. Kids will need to be able to see Timmy's perspective and then figure out that other character's perspectives may be different (and actually more believable). Pastis uses fairly sophisticated vocabulary at times, making this better for your 10 and 11 year old than the drawings might initially suggest.

You'll get a sense of Pastis' humor browsing through this preview from Google Books:

I could go on, but I'd just like to share two last things. Here's a note my student Santi left on our copy of the book with his review:

The final thing is a comment on tonight's #titletalk from the amazing 4th grade teacher, Mr. Colby Sharp:
"I love when my class is very quiet during independent reading and a kid just starts busting up laughing. Kids always want THAT book #titletalk" @ColbySharp
For more from Stephan Pastis, check out his site for Timmy Failure. He's headed to California for a tour next month! I also enjoyed listening to a great interview with Stephan Pastis on Apple's Meet the Author podcast, with the ever enjoyable Jenny Brown. Check out her review of Timmy Failure on Twenty by Jenny. You'll also have fun with Betsy's review over at Fuse #8.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. I read this several weeks ago and totally agree and endorse your review.

    I gave my review copy to an eight year old for keeps but the person who I gave it to first was my husband a HUGE Pearls Before Swine fan. He loved it so all ages can love this book:)

    My favorite part of the book starts on the cover page.

    I laugh every time I say "Mistakes Were Made"
    Yes, we can all relate to mistakes.

    Sue Bartle

  2. I really like Timmy Failure and i think that picture Santi drew was awesome. I can tell you a story, Once I brought my Timmy Failure book to school for quiet reading time, and when i started reading page 128, I literally FELL off my chair and burst out laughing. The teacher was surprised i didn't cry, because it was a VERY, VERY loud bang.