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. Jeffrey E. Jessum, Ph. D. tells Johnny's story with passion in his book, Diary of a Social Detective: Real-life tales of mystery, intrigue, and interpersonal adventure.
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! Here is an annotated list of his cases:
Chapter 1-Too Close for Comfort: The Case of Back-Away Bobby-Antonio Closeupeenee came to Johnny with a problem. His friend Bobby kept backing away from him. (Social skill addressed: personal space.)
Chapter 2-Accidentally Funny: The Case of the Incidental Straightman-Dimsly Overhead does not have a clue about why kids think he’s funny and laugh at him. (Social skill addressed: taking statements literally.)
Chapter 3-Summer’s Bummer: The Case of the Huffy Girlfriends-Summer McLouden doesn’t understand why her girlfriends are mad at he a lot. (Social skill addressed: using an appropriate tone of voice.)
Chapter 4-Gimme Back My Banana!: The Case of the Bothersome Bully-Stan Dupfeself, The Dupster, was the target of a bully. (Social skill addressed: teaching kids to stand up for themselves.)
Chapter 5-You Catch More Flies With Honey Than With Vinegar: The Case of Billy’s Burst Bubble-The local bully, Billy Bullington, is starting to get the idea that people don’t really like him. (Social skill addressed: helping a student change their “social mask” from that of a bully.)
Chapter 6-It’s Not What You Say But How You Say It: The Case of the Back-Talking Ballerina-Sassy Underwood doesn’t understand why everybody dislikes her. (Social skill addressed: tone of voice and body language often speak louder than words.)
Chapter 7-Drowning in the Details: The Case of Monologuing Mona-Mona wants to know why kids don’t want to do group work with her. (Social skill addressed: talking for too long and talking off-topic.)
Chapter 8-It’s My Game, and I’ll Win If I Want To: The Case of the Girl Who Struck Out While Hitting a Home Run-Sora Loosoreea came to Johnny with a complaint. She was the best player on the team, and her coach had benched her for the big game. (Social skill addressed: being a team player.)
Chapter 9-My Way or the Highway: The Case of the Boy Who Couldn’t Handle the Gray in Life-Righteous Preachly wanted everybody to do things correctly. Righteous was the one who defined which way was right. (Social skill addressed: knowing fact from opinion and honoring peers’ opinions/not being controlling.)
Chapter 10-Chant of the Cheese Monkeys: The Case of Stan’s Most Legendary Party Yet-Righteous Preachly spent a lot of time criticizing the Cheese Monkeys’ new album and behaving very formally with peers in all settings. (Social skill addressed: watching what you say/loosening up, so that others are comfortable around you.)
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 also 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!
To help me write this review, I received a copy of Diary of a Social Detective at no cost to me from the publisher, AAPC Publishing.
Diary of a Social Detective is one of the best books that I have ever seen to teach social skills. Not only are the lessons taught, they are fun! Plus, the book was a pleasure to read. The Amazon link is below.
Diary of a Social Detective - Real-life tales of mystery, intrigue and interpersonal adventure