Miss Malarkey: Kids Being Kids, Adults Being...Babies! 

Book Title: You're A Good Sport, Miss Malarkey

Author: Judy Finchler

Illustrator: Kevin O'Malley

Book Type: Picture

I would prescribe this book for this kind of child: Any child ready to realize that adults can behave badly too!

I think this book is a: great book

I came across this book by happy accident. My daughter and I were at the close-out store and happened upon their disorganized and disheveled book department. My daughter asked if she could get a book, which is a request I usually like to hear, but not in the close-out store. I despaired at finding a book worth reading.

I needn't have worried. You're A Good Sport, Miss Malarkey (which seems to be still in print) was a joyous read for both parent and child. Part of the Miss Malarkey series by Judy Finchler and illustrated by Kevin O'Malley, it's a delight on numerous levels.

The text is funny. The pictures are funny. Both my daughter and I appreciated the humor. My daughter especially appreciated it, because most of the humor is at the expense of grown-ups.

Miss Malarkey is an elementary school teacher. Her young students, new to the game of soccer, are enrolled in a league where they will compete against other schools.

Though their enthusiasm is high, their skill level is low. That proves to be an unworkable combination for their first two coaches: the school principal and the gym teacher. These men haven't the patience.

The job falls to Miss Malarkey, who is as new to the game as the children. Armed with a book on the sport though, she jumps into the fray.

In no time, the children are not quite as awful as they were at the outset. That is to say, they're learning slowly and having a good time. Miss Malarkey seems to know that's what's important.

Enter competition...and the parents. The kids start playing games against the other schools.

Ms. Finchler has either attended a goodly amount of youth sporting competitions or has caught a lot of the news coverage of same. The parents are, at turns:

  • overcompetitive
  • distracted
  • concerned with their child's playing time
  • rude
  • abusive
  • critical of the refs
  • critical of their own kid
  • critical of the other kids
  • critical of Coach Malarkey

The kids remain kids, largely oblivious. But during the game against archrival East Braggerly Elementary, the adults get completely ugly and out of control and Coach Malarkey explodes.

As Ms. Finchler writes (in the child voice of the narrator), "They sort of had to cancel that game."

Miss Malarkey is the teacher you always loved. Young readers can't help but notice that

  1. The children are always happy in her care,
  2. She's willing to stand up to the adults on their behalf, and
  3. She actually gives the adults their comeuppance.

Needless to say, the story rolls on to a happy, non-competitive ending, where the only important thing are the two words Ms. Finchler has Miss Malarkey yell to the team on the last page. Namely,

Have Fun!

I should note that part of the fun of the book--for both parent and child--is that the text is split rather evenly between straight narrative and dialogue. The dialogue appears in balloons above the characters' heads.

Reading to your child you will get to play all the parts--the kids, the parents, the principal, Miss Malarkey--and the dialogue always tickles.

Generalizing from my five year old, I think I can say that kids "get" this book. My daughter gets that the parents are acting immature, she gets that Miss Malarkey is the only grown-up who actually behaves like a grown-up, and she gets that the book is funny.

In fact, I think there's a quite visceral pleasure that children can take from this book. After all, children spend too much of their lives being taken to task for their own immaturity, and even if they manage to see ours they rarely get to see it acknowledged.

There's a page in the book depicting the game that follows the big game that ended prematurely. The picture is of the parents all with lollipops in their mouths, looking rather taken to task. Miss Malarkey gave them the lollipops to remind them to keep quiet.

My daughter LOVES that picture, as any child would. Ms. Finchler and Mr. O'Malley wisely devote two whole pages to it.

I haven't yet read the other Miss Malarkey Books, but if they're anything like this one they provide a powerful service.

A child's world is too often tilted toward the adults. Judy Finchler and Miss Malarkey balance the scale a bit.

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