Hello everyone, and I’m back with a new book series ranking post. In my last such post, I ranked the first ten Diary of a Wimpy Kid books in my own personal order of worst to best. Now, this post will be ranking a book series that focuses on a somewhat less faulty yet slightly more egotistical and troublesome middle schooler: the Big Nate book series.
Nate Wright has an interesting place in the world of children’s literature. Big Nate began as a comic strip in 1991 that remained relatively unknown, until cartoonist Lincoln Pierce made a decision that changed the property forever. He had been in contact with Jeff Kinney, who at the time was yet to be the author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and was still trying to be a cartoonist. Peirce gave him advice and even put Igdoof, Kinney’s hit character during his college years, in a Big Nate Sunday strip to his pleasure. Kinney went on to get his big break with Diary of a Wimpy Kid in 2007, not forgetting Pierce’s gesture. Realizing that he got more successful than Pierce, Kinney returned the favor when he adapted Big Nate into a Poptropica island in 2008, intending to give Pierce some of that success.
We realized what a powerful publishing platform we had in Poptropica. We decided to dedicate ourselves to putting great content in front of kids, and I immediately thought of ‘Big Nate.’ I’ve always thought ‘Big Nate’ deserved a bigger audience, and it was exciting to think that we could bring the comic to millions of kids.
Things were never the same after that, and Big Nate became wildly popular. Indeed, I have this move to thank for introducing me to Nate’s world and eventually becoming a fan. Pierce was eventually able to write his own book series as a result of the success, capitalizing on Diary of a Wimpy Kid‘s impact and making Nate part of a legacy that includes such similar characters as Rafe Khatchadorian, Nikki Maxwell, and Timmy Failure among others. And the fact that Nate technically precedes all of them, even Greg, gives him an edge against those who may be more critical of that legacy. The last installment, Blasts Off, was released in 2016, and the property even spawned a musical, if you learned something today. However, the strip is still undergoing a lengthy hiatus as a result of unfortunate events in Pierce’s life that are still unspecified.
Just a short update for those of you have noticed Big Nate is in reruns: Lincoln is not on vacation, but rather attending to family matters unrelated to Big Nate. There’s no firm timetable for Lincoln’s return, but rest assured, he has every intention to return to the drawing board as soon as he can.
As I’ve said before, I’m willing to wait as long as I have to for new strips, and it’s possible by this point that Pierce is actually writing the new strips in preparation for their syndication. And of course, there’s that animated movie I hope happens one day once Pierce gets the chance.
But enough with the history and the current developments – it’s time to get to the list! But before I do so, I would like to give a heads up to some minor spoilers to the books as last time. So get out your Cheez Doodles and steer clear of that egg salad as we begin this big countdown!
#8: Strikes Again
I know there are some fans that outright dislike this book, but personally, I don’t think it’s that bad. It’s definitely not the best in the series, but it’s still perfectly okay in my opinion. It challenges the relationship between Nate and Gina in an interesting way: they are forced to work on a report together, in which they ultimately decide to cheat it out. Gina decides to make the whole report while still crediting Nate, while Gina comes up with an excuse to not play on Nate’s fleeceball team. They eventually realize that they need each other, but I think what makes the book not work for some people is that even though this is what happens, it happens in a way that doesn’t really change things between the characters.
When it comes to writing characters though, the writer may give them certain traits that won’t change in order to preserve the status quo of what makes the character that character. It was only the second book in the series, of which these character traits are still being established before they potentially get broken. If they do get broken, it typically occurs in the last book, which I will get into later. Nonetheless, I also understand that this still shouldn’t come at the expense of the story. Pierce could’ve found a way to make the ending work while still preserving those character traits. The rest of the plot works so well though that I personally didn’t mind the ending too much. Also, Nate actually takes interest in a little bit of history, which was great to see for his character.
#7: On A Roll
It wasn’t too hard to determine On A Roll‘s position on the list. Like Strikes Again, the stakes don’t feel too high compared to the other installments, and the antagonist is a series mainstay that Nate is in conflict with, so it positions itself for ending up exactly as the previous installment. But it actually succeeds where Strikes Again doesn’t: making the ending work while still preserving character traits. Nate gets upset with Artur’s luck adversely affecting him, which causes him to lose his skateboard. Nate and Artur become Timber Scouts that are in competition to get an even better skateboard, and Nate basically spends the whole book trying to finally beat Artur to it. The odds get really stacked against him, until somehow, Nate succeeds in the end. It was cool to see a character as supposedly perfect as Artur to finally not get his way for once. Nate also gets reminded of what it is about Artur that even he likes about him, even if it’s not conveyed as well as it could’ve been. It’s a perfectly fine story, but the subsequent installments only get better.
#6: In A Class By Himself
I really wanted to put this one higher on the list, but the rest of the series is just so good from here on in that I couldn’t help but to give it this position. It’s mostly due to the simpler plot, but it’s simplicity that works really well. This serves as a great introduction to the series, of which the first book should have that simplicity. It’s basically an introduction to Nate’s self-centered disposition and his belief that he is destined for greatness, which really gets in over his head upon reading a fortune cookie. He then sets out to prove himself, resulting in a series of not-so-great events that are pretty distinct by the chapter. But they eventually all come together in the end in a massive turnaround that makes the book such a great entry. It really gets you excited for what’s to come, and it’s not a bad place to look for material come that potential animated movie.
#5: In The Zone
With its theme of luck, In The Zone is probably the closest Nate ever gets to Greg Heffley in the series, which was pretty fun. Nate ends up on a losing streak when he learns of Chad’s lucky foot. He’s skeptical at first, until his mishaps get bad enough to the point that he decides to use it after Chad gives it to him. The foot ends up working for him, until Chad eventually needs it back, only for Mrs. Godfrey to take the foot from the both of them. This forces the two to realize that charms aren’t everything when it comes to luck, and that it’s just a matter of how you approach the situation, which comes in handy during Field Day. There is gradual setup for the antagonist as well, which was also neat, and there are events involving Chad’s character that were pretty great. Also, there is a small arc involving Nate and Artur with a conclusion that, in a different context, On A Roll could’ve really needed.
#4: Lives It Up
Lives It Up introduces a new character to the Big Nate mythos in Breckenridge Puffington III. He is a new student at P.S.38, and Principal Nichols tasks Nate with touring him around the school as his “buddy”. Nate is inclined to the offer at first, but soon learns that Breckenridge is a plant fanatic, which doesn’t sit too well with him. Breckenridge also develops a liking towards Nate that’s too close for his comfort. Nate also recalls Breckenridge from a hazy part of his past, which really amps up the drama between the characters and makes it matter that much more when Breckenridge’s love for plants help Nate and his friends in the most unexpected way in the end. Breckenridge sadly debuted late in the series, and he hasn’t appeared in too much Big Nate media since, but his involvement in Lives It Up gave it a great message about acceptance through his relationship with Nate. Just because you may not like somebody for being completely different from you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything to offer.
#3: Goes For Broke
There is something about Goes For Broke that is just so great. Its message is incredibly deep compared to the other installments, being this high on the list mainly for its analogy to the Greek tale of Achilles’ Heel. Nate explains P.S.38’s hatred for rival school Jefferson, which is supposedly better than P.S.38 in every single way. At first, Nate believes that Jefferson is so perfect that he will never find the necessary weak spot needed to finally beat them at something. That is until the formal introduction of Dee Dee Holloway, who up until that point was only very lightly referenced in the previous installments. The character makes a triumphant debut, not wasting a page in her attempt to show readers how great of a character she is. Through Dee Dee, Nate learns that everyone, even Jefferson, has a weakness, and that it was just a matter of figuring out what that weakness was. And the way Nate finds that weakness, and how he uses it against Jefferson in the end, was absolutely brilliant. After much fan requests, Dee Dee finally appeared in the strip some time after the series ended. And while her character regressed a bit in the strip, it hardly outweighs how well she was written in this book and its subsequent installments.
#2: Flips Out
For me, the number two spot was a no-brainer: Flips Out is just absolutely amazing. With Flips Out, Pierce doesn’t just tell a story with stakes. He doesn’t just teach a lesson. He gets out of his comfort zone with character dynamics and personalities, and goes all out in challenging the fundamental aspects of these characters and their relationships to one another. It’s a fantastic story of how one kid’s mishaps cause his relationship with his lifelong friend to be severed, and how he will do anything – even change who he is as an individual – to get him back. Francis complains of Nate being too messy, which Nate overlooks. That is until Nate loses the school camera in the mess of his locker, causing a rift in his friendship with Francis. Nate is convinced he didn’t lose the camera, but the situation still gives him a reason to get neat, having to get hypnotized by Teddy’s Uncle Pedro in order to achieve the task.
What ensues is Nate realizing the consequences of changing who he is as a person, and a case to figure out what exactly happened to the camera. The stakes all count towards an event called the Trivia Slam, of which Nate and Francis’s friendship is crucial to Nate and his friends winning the Slam. The events made me genuinely care for these characters in a way that has not happened to me with the other books in the series. To this day, I still can’t directly look at a couple of Francis’s illustrations at first sight. All the antagonists get just as dislikable by comparison, but Peirce does such a great job at giving every single character exactly what they deserve in the end.
#1: Blasts Off
For Pierce to achieve a feat quite like Blasts Off is something else. Flips Out was easily positioning itself to take the number one spot, but it seemed that when Pierce announced Blasts Off to be the final entry, he was intent on making the series go out with a bang. And boy, did Pierce succeed and then some. For me, it was no contest: Blasts Off was the first book I placed on this list, and I never changed its position. If I consider Flips Out to be absolutely amazing, then Blasts Off is so great that you can’t blame Nate for thinking he’s so awesome. Remember what I said about Strikes Again‘s use of preserving character traits? Well, as it was the last book, Pierce felt that he was no longer bound by character traits to tell his story, and changed the fundamental aspects of one character in particular that is the main reason why Blasts Off is so great: It gives a redemption story to Randy Betancourt.
After years of chasing down Jenny in the canon, Pierce decided to get Nate out of this phase, which happened not too long before Blasts Off was released. He develops a new crush on Ruby Dinsmore, only to learn that Randy had a crush on her as well. Randy fights Nate for Ruby’s affections, and Nate takes advantage of his new position in the school paper to get back at him. This entices Principal Nichols to get Gina to fix their relationship, in which we learn why Randy is a bully. All of a sudden, he turns from obnoxious to sympathetic. He slowly shifts alliances to Nate and his friends, which becomes crucial to them winning an event called the Mud Bowl. Dee Dee is also a standout, helping Nate realize certain developments between him, Randy and Ruby that only a girl would know. There is a side plot involving Marty’s work life that heightens the stakes in a way never before seen in the series, of which the misery Nate gets from it helps him relate to Randy.
On top of all that, things ultimately work out between Nate and Ruby, which doesn’t happen too often to characters like him (looking at you, Greg Heffley). Part of you expects it to happen, and part of you wants it to happen instead of Randy winning Ruby over, yet at the same time, you actually feel bad for him. Ultimately, Pierce decides to put Randy in much of the same position Nate was with Jenny. And it’s a good compromise between how much his character changed and the character he used to be. Unfortunately, the events of the book haven’t been reflected in the comic strip yet, though this is the case with most of the series as the books and strip are considered to be different continuities. Still, subsequent strips with Randy bullying Nate are pretty disheartening to read, but it doesn’t change the fact that when you forget about the strip, the book by itself is everything that Nate thinks he is.
Well, I hope that you have stayed away from the cats and figure skating long enough to get this far. Hope you enjoyed my list, and I have to say that reflecting back on a book series and ranking its books accordingly has become pretty fun. We’ll see what book series I do next, but for now, I think you’ll more than appreciate getting dismissed by that school bell.
Until Mrs. Godfrey yells at us again, folks. 😉