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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
As a psychologist that works with kids with social weaknesses, I am so excited about this book. Dr. Jessum has achieved something very few authors have successfully done in this domain of literature. He has a taken the most complex and nuanced thing we do as human beings, successfully relating to others, and written a kid accessible, yet compelling guide to social success in this arena. The interpersonal adventures of Johnny Strange in this book are highly entertaining, especially given the mystery format. What kid does not like solving a mystery? His protagonist, Johnny Strange, is fun, relatable, and quirky enough that he will jive with so many of the preteens and teens I work with on the autism spectrum. Johnny blazes the trail in teaching systematic strategies to children who struggle with relating to peers. Dr. Jessum's stories are clever and entertaining and teach the importance of observation, practice, perspective taking, empathy, and implement the strategies, and review outcomes. Finally, a book that I can give to my clients that I know they will enjoy reading, where I don't have to apologize in advance for it being cheesy or trite. The book is concrete enough for children (especially those with social vulnerabilities) to follow, but comprehensive enough that it does not promote rote, script-like interactions or interpretations. Dr. Jessum's book is truly a gift to the socially challenged and I am sure to use it regularly in my practice.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2011
Format: Paperback
Johnny, known to all of the kids as "Johnny Strange", has a problem. The kids at school move away from him in droves. He doesn't have friends, and he keenly feels his solitary state. He is lonely beyond belief. Johnny Strange doesn't understand social interactions. What's a guy to do? Johnny uses his love of mysteries to learn to solve his own social mysteries.

Solving social mysteries takes a set of strategies, and Johnny develops these. There are procedures for gathering facts, making sense of the facts, and creating social remedies. Johnny does the detective work and writes his findings down in his notebook. He develops an awareness of what was going on around him and how his peers were seeing him and his actions. When he saw a problem, he devised a solution. If a solution didn't work, he figured out why it did not work, and he tried something else. Over time, his strategies paid off, and Johnny became accepted by the other kids. He had transformed himself into "Johnny Smooth!"

Always a kid with a lot of heart, Johnny wanted to help others who had social problems. An earlier realization of the power to understand social situations led him to believe that other people could use his services. He set up shop as a social detective and charged a dollar a day plus expenses. Soon, tales of his skills spread beyond his immediate circle of friends. Even adults came to him with social mysteries. This book includes ten of Johnny's social mystery cases.

Each case follows a predictable format. This will help readers be comfortable and know what to expect. The beginning of the chapter tells the background of the client. This lets kids feel that they know the client. Then, the client comes to Johnny with a defined problem. Johnny looks into it by observing the client and seeing others' reactions to that kid. There's a list of bulleted questions that follow these observations to help readers think about the case and to give a structured response to the story. After that is the "Cracking the Case" section of the chapter. Johnny tells the client what he has discovered about the client's social mystery. They discuss the problem and possible remedies. The chapter ends when the client and Johnny share a moment of satisfaction that the case has been cracked.

The social mysteries confront a large range of topics in a way that is engaging. Readers are encouraged to interact with the text and bring their own insights into solving the social mysteries. The language is simple, and the hero is quirky. Johnny's age is indeterminate, so this book will work for a large age range. His school has recess, like an elementary school. They also do class changes like a middle or high school. This is a clever device that kept me guessing about how old Johnny was supposed to be. Finally, I gave up and just enjoyed his pleasing individuality!

Johnny's cases cover a lot of ground. He helps students who have problems with personal space, understanding figurative language, using an appropriate tone of voice, and talking too much. He takes on problems with bullying from both the standpoint of the bullied and the bully. Johnny helps students understand that tone of voice, body language, and honoring their peers' opinions are important skills. One girl learned that it is better to be a good team player, than just being an outstanding player.

The book finishes with a completely solved mystery from earlier in the book. Everything is delineated, so that the nouveau detective can have an example to follow. This is extremely helpful. It lays the steps out and shows the processes that Johnny went through to solve the social mystery. It's all there; nothing is hidden.

There are forms, Worksheet for Solving Social Mysteries, that students can copy to guide them through solving their own social mysteries. They have the advantage of listing the steps. The actual forms are not user-friendly, since they don't have lines to write on, and the writing space is rather small. Students with ADD and other cognitive impairments often have handwriting problems. As a teacher, I would take the subject headings and put lines between them. I think that using the back and front of two letter sized sheets of paper would provide enough writing space for most mysteries. Alternatively, I would staple the worksheets into the front cover of a spiral notebook, and have students use them as guides to make their own sheets.

I wasn't sure that I would enjoy this book, because the concept seemed kind of cutesy and corny. After reading it, I came to the conclusion that it is "just right." My students will learn from it, and it will be an enjoyable experience. Two of my friends, professionals in the social services field, also read it. They loved it and thought it would be useful for their social skills groups. We give it three thumbs up!

I received a copy of this book at no charge to me from the publisher, AAPC Publishing. I was not paid for this review.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book is wonderful. I got it for my middle-schooler but it also helped me to understand ways that my ADHD traits had kept me from fitting in my own childhood, so I found it very healing and informative, and it gave me the tools to help my son. Finally I understood why some bullies bully, what is going on when a child is a bad sport, how to gently let a child know his behavior is his own worst enemy. And most importantly, it helped me be aware of the scared little boy inside the child with attitude, the little girl who thinks she must be perfect to be loved, inside the girl who can be too critical. This will help me to help my son and even to cope with difficult people at work!

The plot is this: a teenaged boy who himself had issues with social skills, somehow figured it all out, and now consults to children who have various difficult traits that keep them from being accepted by their peers. WIth compassion but honesty, the narrator (who writes in first person) helps his classmates discover what they are doing that is causing them problems, and empowers them to change. Examples include a girl who has a harsh attitude, a girl who monologues, a boy who is bullied, and a boy who is a bully. Jessum's grasp of what motivates the difficult behaviors, and the defenses that are conjured up by the teens, is amazing. There are wonderful insights and it made us both think. This could be a wonderful video.

But more than that, what this story is about is at the heart of all great literature, every great play, distilled into a few insightful chapters: the confusion of miscommunication, the tragedy of good intentions gone wrong, the search we all have for acceptance and compassion, and the hope of reconciling with those who hurts us and reaching out to those who are lost.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a fun, engaging book filled with useful tips on how to interact socially with others. It would be particularly helpful for children on the autism spectrum, but would also be useful for any child who has social challenges--and who doesn't, at one time or another? In the course of editing my book Asperger Syndrome (Perspectives on Diseases and Disorders) I did a lot of reading on the subject, and this is one of the best books I've encountered for helping children who have difficulty understanding social interactions.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
My eleven-year-olds are enjoying this book because the story is packed with lots of detail regarding body language, even when the author is elaborating on a character not necessarily central to the plot. For instance, Johnny notes how a teacher's facial expressions and voice convey disapproval when he and another kid are discussing a case during class. The book is primarily about kid-to-kid interaction, but including these tidbits will really help kids who struggle to relate well with others in their lives. The book also gives opportunity for discussion, allowing readers to contemplate the scenarios. My kids have spent quite a bit of time discussing those questions and thinking about how the scenarios play out in their own day-to-day experience. They also spend time evaluating the solutions offered by Johnny, the detective. For instance, they aren't certain that name-calling is how they want to respond to anyone, as suggested in The Case of the Bothersome Bully. They never thought of calling someone a "scaly-faced, fly-eaten lizard". And I, like the mother mentioned in the story, have a hard time endorsing it. Whether they decide to incorporate that advice or not, at least my kids have some options to consider next time they find themselves provoked.
Diary of a Social Detective is five stars worth of excellent information effectively communicated to kids, but I'm subtracting one star due to the shock my son experienced as he read aloud, "What the hell..." as dialogue coming from a kid. As a teacher, I used to give detentions to kids who used vulgar language, and since I can't write one for Dr. Jessum, I penalize him one star for using it in a kids' book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
As a mom, a parenting expert, and a pediatric psychotherapist, I appreciate this book. I've used this book with my kids and my patients, and have recommended it to many. While kids experience it as a fun book, I love that it's teaching how to read social cues and how to understand the social world. I highly recommend this book if you're looking for a fresh and effective approach that builds relational skills and social intelligence. One of the things this book does that is different from other books like it is that it not only gives kids specific tools that give them the skills to understanding social information, but it also nurtures an awareness of how to go about understanding themselves and others in new ways. This book is like the "Mythbusters" of the social world --teaching kids to test their assumptions, to gather and check the facts, etc. I can't say enough good things about this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
What an original idea! Employing stories that all kids can relate to, Jeff cleverly provides tools to negotiate the many perplexing social situations kids face everyday at school and with their families and friends. This book encourages kids to find solutions to social quandaries in a fun and engaging manner!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2011
Format: Paperback
The book has engaging, fun and touching youth adventures that provide a great resource for anyone trying to help a child who fits into the autism spectrum. Instead of a dry diatribe that immediately tells a kid he or she is a problem child, the unique story telling approach here appeals to kids because it pulls them into the everyday struggles and triumphs of other kids they can relate to.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2011
Format: Paperback
What a wonderful collection of stories outlining the trials and tribulations all kids go through on their road to growing up. Jeff's stories are clear, interesting and delightfully engaging.

This book engages the reader and opens up opportunity to talk through several social situations we have all faced at one point or another in our lives. What a great way to start a conversations with your kids about how to handle difficult personalities (including your own).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is an excellent resource for kids and families. I loved it! It offers humor and entertainment while at the same time providing sound advice and practice tools for anyone wanting to better their social relationships. Kids will enjoy reading and solving the social mysteries and they will become great "social detectives" in the process.
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