Freak the Mighty is a highly readable book that addresses many serious issues, including domestic violence, alienation, and bullying. Through the story of the main characters, Max and Kevin, students can learn a great deal about themselves and others.
You can purchase Freak the Mighty here.
Before we begin reading, I give the students a journal entry writing prompt that will help them connect to the literature. For this book, I ask the students to Write about a time when you judged a person unfairly just because of the way s/he looked. What did you do? How did that person react? What did you finally learn about that person? The students usually take off with this writing assignment, and after they are done, we have a group share, with students reading their journal entries aloud to the rest of the class. This usually provokes a very lively discussion.
Freak the Mighty is a very easy book for high school students to read, so I offer it as at-home reading or as part of literature circles. I usually read the first chapter aloud in class, and then let students finish the book on their own. One thing for certain, however, is that students want to discuss the book, so be sure to allow class time to do so. I like to use the Scholastic discussion guide to help steer the conversation. Here, some of my students discuss the novel [SPOILER ALERT!]
This year, I read Freak the Mighty with my sophomore honors English class. I was surprised at the higher level discussion that the novel provoked, and I was excited to use the book to talk about some important concepts, including:
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Ask students what a self-fulfilling prophecy is and how it applies to the novel. Students should see that because Max's intelligence is continually underestimated by everyone but Kevin, Max continues to do poorly in school. What happens when Kevin challenges that prophecy? What implications does the concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy have for students and teachers? Are self-fulfilling prophecies relevant to your own life or your family members' lives?
Domestic Violence: Students discover that Max's father actually murdered Max's mother, and that Max witnessed that murder. How prevalent is domestic violence in today's society? Have students research the domestic violence statistics for their city or state. Students can work in groups to answer the following questions:
This assignment will yield excellent information, which can be shared on a bulletin board inside or outside of the classroom.
Bullying: Freak the Mighty also brings up an issue that has become extremely important in today's schools: bullying. Last year, Massachusetts passed one of the most comprehensive bullying laws in the United States. One of the most significant aspects of the law is that it requires teachers and other school staff to report bullying to the principal (or another administrator picked to handle reports) the minute that they witness or become aware of bullying. Further, the Massachusetts law mandates training for teachers and staff, each year, on how to intervene when bullying is taking place and how to prevent it. Most importantly, the law requires bullying education classes in schools. The classes are required in every grade, and they will help students realize that bullying should never be accepted and that students do have power against bullying. The classes will help students recognize the paths for approaching an adult and asking for help if they witness or are a victim of bullying.
This may be a great time for students to review your school's bullying policy to make sure that the protocol in place is effective. Students can suggest changes to the protocol and new ways to prevent or deal with bullying. Scholastic offers plenty of resources for understanding and dealing with bullying. "Do Mean Girls Rule Your School?" provides great ideas for stopping "relational aggression" and "Keep Kids Safe Online" examines the issue of cyberbullying.
In the book, Kevin gives Max a dictionary that contains the lexicon of their friendship. This is a great idea for an assignment for students, and it helps them to understand colloquial language and its importance in writing and literature. I ask students to create a "dictionary" of at least ten words for either one of their friends or for a kid new to our school. When we did this assignment this year, there were several new words and phrases.
"talking to" Ã¢ÂÂ verb. What a couple does before they begin dating but are clearly interested in each other. When two people are "talking to" each other, no one else may "talk to" them. Example: "I'm not dating anyone, but I am talking to Keanu.
"forced" Ã¢ÂÂ verb. Exaggerated or overdone. Example: "You could have answered that question in one sentence, but you wrote four because you forced it."
"grimy" Ã¢ÂÂ adjective. Wrong, shouldn't have been done. Example: "I couldn't believe she cheated on him; that is just grimy."
"scram" Ã¢ÂÂ verb. Standing someone up. Example: "You were supposed to be here at 2, but you scrammed on us."
"mad" Ã¢ÂÂ adjective. To the highest degree. Example: "Yo, that girl is mad funny."
"peeped" Ã¢ÂÂ verb. Saw. "I peeped you the other day at the mall, but you didn't see me."
I like to save the Rodman Philbrick video interview for after the students finish reading the book, as I think it adds insight to why the author wrote this young adult novel. It also provides inspiration for students who enjoy writing.
Finally, since students enjoy Freak the Mighty so much, I suggest the sequel, Max the Mighty, as follow-up reading. For more books that address issues important to teens and preteens, visit "Got Issues? Books That Tackle Topics That Matter to Preteens."