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Bullies Never Win Hardcover – June 23, 2009
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About the Author
Margery Cuyler is the award-winning author of numerous books for young readers. She lives with her husband and son in Princeton, New Jersey. Arthur Howard is the illustrator of Cynthia Rylant’s Mr. Putter and Tabby series as well as his own picture books. He lives in New York City.
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Jessica is having problems with a mean girl at school who picks on her no matter what she does, wears, or says. Jessica feels conflicted about how to respond to this girl, and ultimately runs through a variety of common reactions: anger, sadness, fear. She tries hiding her feelings from her mom, and, when that doesn't work, she tries talking to her mom about what she should do. I like how her mom listens to Jessica, but doesn't overreact. She helps Jessica think about solutions to the problem, but leaves the final decision of how to respond up to Jessica. In the end, Jessica has to try multiple tactics to get the bully to leave her alone, but finally succeeds in standing up for herself and putting the bully in her place.
Overall, a great story with interesting illustrations. Highly recommended for children dealing with "bullying" situations or who just want to read a good picture book.
That said, there are some things that strike me as odd. First, this book isn't really about bullying, at least not the way I think about the word. Bullying has always implied to me some sort of physical threat, and usually some sort of action that the bully wants from the victim. From the title, the book simply isn't about what I expected it to be about. I think the concept is just excellent, but the title does it no service. Now truthfully, this may be girls' equivalent to bullying, as girls (at least the little middle-class white girls pictured in this story) are much more likely to encounter the social taunting, cliques and isolation this book describes than any sort of physical violence. Which brings me to my next issue, which is the complete and total lack of diversity of color or class that this book encompasses.
This story takes place in a first grade classroom, which feels a little young to me. My daughter just finished first grade and didn't find it to be quite so stressful and insecure and calculating just yet. First graders, traditionally 6 and 7 years old are a little young for this sort of social awareness. There may be a socially mature kid like Brenda, but the less socially mature kids (my daughter is one of them) are more oblivious to the differences than pained by them. And I haven't found that the "Brendas" are *mean* yet. They are simply social leaders, not get clique leaders or mean. I'd think of this story as more appropriate at the 3rd or *maybe* 2nd grade level...but they aren't going to want to hear a story about 1st graders.
Finally, the ending is just a little too tidy for my taste. Jessica stands up with one smart alec rhyme calling Brenda a bully and she gets embarrassed and folds. I don't buy it.
So while this book is an excellent, and I mean excellent, discussion of the feelings of being excluded, being picked on and generally not being one of the social elite in the world of little girls, and for that alone, because it did it so amazingly, I gave it 4 stars as worth reading. But some discussion of whether the solution is realistic, what more could and should happen and what it means to be a bully would be needed in a personal or classroom setting to really make this book valuable.
For another excellent, excellent book on bullying and standing up for oneself and others, try One by Katherine Otoshi.