Review: Bully by Patricia Polacco


Bully by Patricia Polacco

Lyla was very nervous about starting sixth grade at her new school, but she met Jamie on her first day and they immediately became friends.  Lyla found herself fascinated by the three popular girls in school, who completely ignored her.  She managed to get their attention when she got the top grade on an essay.  Lyla tried out for cheerleading and made the team.  Lyla even negotiated with her parents to get a laptop and Jamie helped her put together a Facebook page.  Suddenly the popular girls started to pay attention to her and Lyla found herself joining them for lunch, leaving Jamie behind.  But when a test is stolen and Lyla is accused of stealing it, she finds herself being bullied on Facebook and online.  The story ends with the real thief being caught, but there is still the question of how kids who are being bullied should respond.  What would you do?

Polacco grapples with many issues in this book.  There are the popular kids and the others, something that we have seen in books again and again.  But Polacco works to make this more than about mean girls by focusing on Lyla and her own reaction to bullying.  Lyla sits quietly and allows others to be picked on by the girls, unwilling to speak up.  While she does eventually disengage from the others, her own role in bullying is exposed too.  The theft of the test takes the level of bullying higher, moving it online and making it very personal.  Polacco manages to make the abuse believable but also devastating.

My one problem with the book is that the adults in the story are fairly ineffectual in stopping the bullying.  When Lyla’s brother is having real issues at his new school, their parents do not get involved.  Additionally, when the bullying against Lyla escalates, she does not turn to adults for help.  It’s an unfortunate omission.

As always Polacco’s art is a large part of the appeal of this book.  Her realistic illustrations use fine lines and bright colors to tell the story.  The emotions on her faces are particularly effective, showing exactly what they are thinking.  I also enjoyed the clothes worn by the bullies and the way that they wore similar outfits that held together as a group.

This is a great book to start bullying discussions.  It shows how bullying can come from nowhere and escalate quickly.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.

Review: The Monsters’ Monster by Patrick McDonnell

monsters monster

The Monsters’ Monster by Patrick McDonnell

Grouch, Grump and Gloom ‘n’ Doom just knew they were the biggest monsters around.  After all, they lived in a big castle on top of a tall mountain that overlooked a little village.  And to top it off, their favorite word to use was “NO!”  When the three little monsters got into an argument about who was the biggest and baddest monster of all, they decided to settle it.  They built their own huge monster, who came to life after a jolt of electricity.  But this big, big monster may not be exactly who they were expecting.  A great pick for Halloween tales, this is a playful and silly take on monsters.

McDonnell has created three very cross little monsters who would not scare anyone.  Yes, they are loud, grumpy and constantly arguing, but they are not frightening thanks to their small size.  Then to trump that, he has also written a large monster who could be quite frightening with a personality that will surprise.  It makes for a delight of a book.  McDonnell’s writing is perfect for reading aloud, setting the right pace and tone to make it a wild rumpus of a read.

His art is equally fun, sometimes giving full-page spreads, but also intermingling smaller illustrations filled with movement and zing.  The blotches of ink on those pages add to the hustle and bustle of the tone.  The art is playful and filled with humor.  It will work best shared with smaller groups, since so much of the fun is in the illustrations.

Get your hands on this one for Halloween reads, it’s sure to be a favorite and asked for again and again.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Ten Most Challenged Books of 2011

ALA has released their list of the top 10 most challenged books in 2011.  There were 326 challenges reported to ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.  I’m intrigued about the changes in the list this year: no Harry Potter, no Tango Makes Three. 

Here, just in time for the 30th Anniversary of Banned Books Week are the top ten:


  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence



4.  Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

5.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint


7.  Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit

8. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit

9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit

10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Reasons: offensive language; racism