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Item - Always Picked Last

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Series: Choose Your Own Adventure - Dragonlarks — no. 9
Author: Montgomery, R. A.
Illustrator: Newton, Keith
Date: June 30, 2009
ISBN: 1933390387 / 9781933390383
Length: 55 pages
Number of Endings: 7
KenJenningsJeopardy74's Thoughts:

Some curious elements of allegory come through in this unusual tale of honesty and the experiential education of one's choices in life on matters both athletic and in general. Accompanied by the award-winning artwork of Disney animation specialist Keith Newton, seasoned gamebook author R. A. Montgomery takes us into a miniaturized world of elves to show us something about what it means to be a genuine competitor and a trustworthy person. In this realm of elves, their games and even their enemies, You start out on the low end of the totem pole, a smallish elf always picked last in the choosing of sides for any team contest. You have a few assets in reserve, however, and if you're determined to move up in the world and stop being picked last, you'll have every opportunity to do so in this story.

Continually being overlooked has you pretty upset as the book begins, but your father has a few words of kind advice for you. Listening to your father is consistently a good bet in Always Picked Last, and when he encourages you to choose a special skill and practice it until you're an accomplished participant, you have two ways to go about the task: the honest way or the dishonest way. As the path of life branches out in front of you in a series of divergent paths, with no way of knowing for sure with each choice you make whether it will lead you in a positive or negative direction, keep in mind that integrity in competition, and honesty with your friends and neighbors, is the best way to ensure you'll never have to cover up your actions or live in fear of being caught. Keeping it real with elves who have shown no inclination toward thinking you're anything special may not always lead to fame and glory, but it's sure to inoculate you against the public disgrace and ridicule of it being found out that you've cheated to become a great athlete, or lied about past accomplishments to make it look as if you're a hero when that is, in fact, far from the truth. Going about becoming a better and more well-respected athletic competitor by practicing hard and putting your all into learning how to improve just might bring a few surprises for the elves who have shunned you, and maybe even for yourself, as you find you have exceptional skills in some sporting activities you may have never even tried.

Obviously it's not a coincidence that Always Picked Last was "Produced in cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency," according to the book's publication information page. The story is an uncompromising indictment of the use of any sort of performance-enhancers in competition, whether it's a bag of strange magic smuggled in by a suspicious-looking troll, or more organic methods of cheating. Yet even as Always Picked Last zeroes in on the circumvention of legal methods to becoming a better athlete and denounces it wholly, I think perhaps the story's most important lesson is about listening to the calm, clear advice of those in your life who can help guide you to better places and more productive choices each step of the way, as your father does in this book. The first thing he says to you in the story, as you listen through tears of sadness and dejection at always being ignored by the other elves, is "You are a great kid! Don't ever forget that. Your mom and I love you." That's all the reassurance you'll need to be able to stand up and make the right choices when you're tempted to deviate from the challenging path to greatness among your peers and vault quickly to a success you haven't earned. You'll make it there eventually, and you'll do it the right way, as long as you remember your father's words and don't ever let anyone make you forget that "You are a great Kid!"

Always Picked Last is a nice story, even heartwarming at times, and makes a solid addition to the Dragonlark Choose Your Own Adventure series for younger readers. It's a book I'm sure I'll end up reading and rereading many times, and I hope the same is true for other young readers all around the world.

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Special Thanks:Thanks to Ken G. for the cover scans.
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