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Coming Soon: Bully and Each Kindness June 20, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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Educators often hold onto this hope that if we read stories to kids about behaviors like bullying or cheating, they’ll take the message more to heart. I don’t know if that’s really true, but coming this fall are two picture books, both from celebrated authors, that teachers may want to read and discuss with their students. Both address bullying, but in different forms and for slightly different ages.

Bully by Patricia Polacco, is narrated by Lyla, a sixth grader starting at a new school in San Francisco. Written in picture book form, it takes the reader through her school year.  The basic arc of the story is familiar: new girl makes a friend, then joins the popular crowd and dumps said friend,  then changes her mind and is punished for it by the popular kids. The popular girl trio could have come straight out of the movie Mean Girls. What sets this tale apart in some ways is the clearly contemporary setting: the high-stakes testing, Facebook and cell phones, and most importantly, the way that technology makes taunting and hurting others so easy. It’s a story with a very in-your-face message, but maybe that’s a good thing. The final sentence “What would you do?” is spoken directly to the reader and it resonates.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, is also a thought-provoking tale written in a very different style.  I was actually introduced to this book by the author herself, who read excerpts from a draft at the Books for the Beast conference in 2009.  It stuck with me and occasionally I would look at shelves of picture books, thinking “Hmm…when is that book about the stone in the bowl of water going to be published?” So it was exciting to find this ARC and realize…NOW! Each Kindness is also a first person narration, by Chloe, who tells the story of a new girl in her class called Maya. Little differences–old clothes, different food and toys–lead to Maya being ostracized and it is only after a simple demonstration by the teacher showing the ripples that a stone makes in water that Chloe realizes her own lack of kindness. The characters in this story are younger than in Bully, but the whispers and excluding on the playground are no less  hurtful than nasty Facebook messages. The pictures are muted watercolors, heartbreakingly realistic as they show the children watching Maya or turning their backs on her.

Each Kindness, in particular, with its inspirational teacher, made me hope that I have been able to influence my students to make the right decision when they are faced with issues like bullying. Maybe these two books will help other teachers to do just that. Look for them coming out this fall.

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