Although most kids think immediately of Wimpy Kid when you ask them to name their favorite “notebook novel”, i.e. a story with a blend of text and graphics, Big Nate was around as a syndicated comic strip long before Greg flexed his wimpy muscles. Big Nate was originally intended as an adult comic strip, and his sarcasm, as well as the perspectives of the adult protagonists, reflects that.
This latest collection features over 200 pages of Nate’s adventures in full color. If you have not previously met Big Nate, he’s an average sixth grade kid with an above-average opinion of himself. In this collection he battles with his archnemesis, Mrs. Godfrey, works to keep his record of “quality detentions” (being late is a lame detention), and enthusiastically pursues the indifferent Jenny. He also tries to keep out of the way of the school bully, hangs out with his friends, reads his favorite comic (when it’s not confiscated by his dad), and carries on a one-sided rivalry with Artur, the exemplary foreign exchange student.
In addition to the novels, there are numerous collections of Big Nate strips, published by two different publishers so there’s a lot to choose from, although Big Nate‘s background story is pretty simple and the reader can easily jump into the strips at any point. While a reader may lose out on some of the finer points if they haven’t read any previous books, such as Nate’s history with Artur, it will be easy enough to pick up the gist of the individual story arcs.
While at first glance Nate and his friends are typical comic strip protagonists, distinguished only by their hairstyles, clothes, and obvious attributes, including glasses or no glasses, Peirce does an amazing job of conveying a lot with a little. Within the limited medium of the comic strip he invests each of the characters with their own personality and emotions. Nate and his friends can elicit a snicker with just a quick lift of the eyebrow or a sarcastic eye roll when Nate says something particularly ridiculous. Each individual panel has its own background color, and if you look carefully you’ll note that they denote the setting. School is shades of institutional green, home and the comic shop are yellow, outside is blue, etc.
Although Nate and his friends insult each other and their teachers, Nate is generally not the type of role model most parents would like to see. The parents at my library are generally more accepting of Big Nate than of Wimpy Kid. While Nate makes a lot of silly decisions, the reader is never really encouraged to identify with him and his schemes always end in disaster. Even adults can enjoy the subtler humor of the series and will sympathize with the long-suffering teachers and other adults who populate Nate’s world. This is a light and fun read both for longtime fans and those new to Big Nate and his misadventures.
Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike
by Lincoln Peirce
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12