It all started with a hat.
Sixth Grade Secrets by Louis Sachar was published in 1987, when I was five years old, and I must’ve read it a dozen times by the time I was actually in sixth grade. I even read it out loud to my older cousin once, at a slumber party – yeah, I was that kind of kid. I remember buying my copy from the Scholastic book sales at school. Selecting books from the book sale catalogue was always the most exciting and agonizing experience, knowing the book sale was coming but that I had to limit my book purchases to whatever amount of money I was allowed to spend. I read Sachar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School too, because we all passed it around at school and I later read Holes, but not until I was twenty-two.
I remember feeling awed and a little scared, as a kid, at the hijinks that sixth graders could get up to. Reading it now as an adult, it strikes me as both utterly ridiculous and completely realistic. That’s how we acted in middle school! Everything was dramatic and one small mistake snowballed into grudges that lasted forever. Or at least till the end of the year, which felt like forever at the time.
Laura, the main character, is so completely stubborn, but she’s also brave. Several times, she double downs when the stakes get high – continuing to sneak into school to write on the board even when it’s likely that she’ll get caught. She’s smart, mostly honest and believes in fairness. She’s complex because she’s both a good kid and a troublemaker.
There are some aspects of the story that are dated all these years later, mostly the technology related to making telephone calls and recording. Today’s kids would probably operate a grudge war very differently and schools have probably changed a lot since I was a kid. But, the emotions and psychology behind their behavior is still very, very true. So I’d say that the most dated thing about the books is the original cover:
…which always makes me feel really nostalgic because Laura’s blue Hawaiian print sweater and pink corduroy pants are totally something we would’ve worn as middle school kids in the 80s and early 90s. And Gabriel’s blue shirt with the red block and white collar? I bet all the boys had one of those in their closet. Look at the newer version of the cover:
It just shows Laura and Gabriel and while their clothes are more modern, I’d say it’s a bit boring. The original cover shows an active moment from the story and I can imagine many kids picked up the book because they were thinking, “What is going on here?” Plus, on the new one Laura’s Pig City cap is allll wrong. Regardless, from the Amazon reviews, it looks like kids are still reading and enjoying Sixth Grade Secrets, which is really cool.
Re-reading this book in particular has made me glad I’m doing this project. This was one of my favorite books growing up and I can totally see why. Because Laura is a girl very much like the girl I was, but with some traits I wished I’d had more of when I was her age. If Laura was 11 in 1987, she’d be 38 now and well on her way to being the first female American president. Laura was worried some other woman might be the first one and I’d say it’s a little sad that that honor could still be hers. But what a president she’d be!