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Beating a Bully — With a Book October 15, 2008

Juvenile author Nancy Wilcox-Richards, whose publisher Scholastic Canada doesn’t seem to be currently distributing here in the U.S., reportedly has released her second children’s chapter book in the bully series called How to Outplay a Bully.  Her first book on the subject, How to Tame a Bully, apparently hit such a nerve that it sold 40,000 copies in the first six months.

I wish my kids, and others, could get their hands on Wilcox-Richard’s reportedly resonant books, for obvious reasons. And the subject of Therapy By Children’s Novel seems to be a trend (as per my blog from just the other day, about how novels that feature healthy eating messages can help encourage weight loss).

But there’s still lots of good bullying help stateside. Master juvenile novelist Jerry Spinelli’s Crash is riveting in its exploration of the bullying issue from the bully’s point of view. Spinelli loves sports, and here he weaves into his middle school football hero character John “Crash” Coogan’s own problems and insights into his taunting of classmate Penn Webb — a gawky, modest, and more awkward boy who would seem to have nothing — and yet possesses everything Crash really wants — at the same time. Does Crash get his comeuppance? You bet.  Is there a tidy resolution? Yes, but in a realistic and even humorous way. That’s why this book gets my top vote, for its naturalness and good writing that still drive its point without taking a didactic tone.

Trudy Ludwig is an established star in the bullying novel genre, more in didactic vein (with back-of-the-book tips), in her titles Just Kidding, My Secret Bully, Sorry!, and others.

Meanwhile, younger kids can take solace — and take notes — with the delectable Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Bottner, and popular Kevin Henkes’ A Weekend with Wendell.

If we didn’t know any better from our personal experiences, one would almost think from our parents’ blinders that bullying was a new phenomenon, or somehow getting worse. It seems worse to me, because my heart is walking around in the bodies of my two little boys, who encounter it seemingly more frequently than I did. Or do we just have “double the trouble” with two in the house?

But just a quick think takes me back to some Great Bullies of Literature. Remember Nellie Olsen of Little House fame? I’d have hated to be on her list. I was short, with red hair, glasses, crooked teeth, you name it.  I wouldn’t have had a prayer. Or how about Wendy — and narrator Jill — from Judy Blume’s Blubber, which takes both a female and bully’s point of view?

Unfortunately, bullying is human nature and undoubtedly here to stay… forever. But we can try to beat it, one book at a time.

Posed by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever



Beckham doing some book-bending too October 1, 2008

I guess the children’s book industry is a little like the political arena — if you have celebrity and money, apparently it gives you immediate entrée to speak all your views and feel strongly that others have reason to listen to you. Or to pick up your laptop and dash off that little children’s ditty rattling around in your head and feel it immediately print-worthy.

Or to hire a ghost writer, as in the case of soccer superstar David Beckham, whose new line of children’s novels based on his London football (as they say it in Europe) academy are aimed for the store shelves next year. I guess the purists in the juvenile book world can be at least glad there’ll be some kind of writing professional involved.

Well, he’s done the cologne thing and the clothing thing, so why not that kids’ book thing?

Usually I can’t stand a book making it to the store shelves just on the basis of the author’s name. Madonna, Jamie Lee Curtis (who does seem a devoted juvenile writer given her many titles), Fergie (the real Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, not that pop singer one), even Jerry Seinfeld have sailed into the stores and dominated the market because of their names, not the quality of the books (which likely would never have see print if the manuscripts had been submitted by unknown authors).

But I haven’t seen this David Beckham series yet, so I can’t speak for the plots or the writing. I do know there’s a place for sports books in children’s literature. I’m all for children reading about what they like. Matt Christopher’s sports series (i.e., Extreme Sports Boxed Set), books by Jerry Spinelli (a wonderful writer who incorporates sports into many titles, such as Newbery medal winner Maniac Magee), Edward Bloor’s Tangerine, Michael Chabon’s Summerland: A Novel: Summerland… all are great sports-themed reads for kids. 

Apparently there’s some “how-to” attached to the shall we say “Beckham-inspired” books, which I also like. The books will reportedly feature tips, a pull-out tactics board and statistics on the game, according to an article in the U.K.’s Telegraph.

Promoting reading through superior soccer playing — we’ll just have to see how this works.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever