There are a lot of books written about bullying and exclusion. This one points out that there really is no rational reason for targeting a child. The child, Laszlo, being bullied was new to the town. “His hair was so blonde, it looked almost white. It stuck out all over, it didn’t look right. His lips were bright pink, his eyes very blue. He looked at his feet and he fidgeted too.… His voice booming so loud.” The children decided immediately that he was weird and began to bully him. As a previous teacher, I was shocked that the teacher was so oblivious to what was going on and did not intervene. It is obvious when they pick teams that he is being left out. The bullying even goes as far as tripping him in the lunch room. This goes on for several weeks. I do know that bullies can be sneaky and clever and pull the wool over their parents and teacher’s eyes, but this seemed pretty prevalent and apparent. I expected the teacher to at least attempt to address the situation. I do understand, though, the children’s books need to be focused on children solving the problem and not adults.
One of the students who has been bullying, discovers Laszlo’s mother crying and learns she is thinking of pulling her son from the school. She suddenly has a moment of conscience and invites Lazlo to play. They have loads of fun and Ellie meets his mother who provides them with warm cookies. When the kids at school question her behavior, she explains that he isn’t that different and shares some of her experience. She ends with, “he may look slightly strange, have an accent and stuff, but if you knew him, you’d like him, it wouldn’t be tough.” Suddenly the children switch to being friendly and inclusive.
It feels like too easy of a solution. Ellie, and the other children, would know full well that Laszlo and his family would be very upset about his treatment. The children look and sound like Junior grade students (4 – 6) certainly old enough to understand exactly what they’re doing and the consequences. I thought perhaps this was an older book since public schools put in a great deal of effort to encourage inclusive this and clamp down on bullying. It seemed in this story that the children controlled the school.
It’s an admirable topic and a worthwhile book but just seems a little out of date. (Copyright 2000) I do believe, however, that this topic needs to be visited regularly every year and we must continue to be vigilant about protecting the bullied and educating bullies. Parents need to be vigilant about this as well.