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It’s an admirable topic and a worthwhile book but just seems a little out of date.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.
What immediately strikes you about this book is how the pictures seem to glow and the little meerkat and leopard exude personality plus.
Lulu is a lonely leopard. We are not told what happened to her family, simply that she is alone in the world. Every time she tries to make friends, the other animals run away in fear for their lives. On the way, we are exposed to various African animals.
One day she comes across three meerkats bullying a fourth. She steps out and defends him. Tip, the little meerkat, becomes a dear friend. Later, when they see the three bullies running for their lives from a secretary bird, they decide to help. Even though Lulu rescues them, the three meerkats still run away in terror. Lulu and Tip don’t mind. Their friendship is available when the others are ready.
I love this message. It would’ve been so easy to let the three bullies be eaten by the secretary bird. Instead, Lulu and Tip take the high road. They also accept that there is no reward for their kindness. Their friendship with each other is enough.
The story is told in rhyme, which is very difficult to pull off. It holds together fairly well with only a few awkward spots. I understand this decision to use rhyme for a heavy topic that has been addressed in so many ways. The cuteness of the animals also helps to keep the tone light.
Children will want Lulu to make friends and will empathize with Tip, the bully victim. This book will lead into a good discussion about forgiveness. At no point does Tip want to use Lulu, the leopard, for vengeance. This book is a nice counterpoint to all the comics, movies, and television shows which promote revenge.
Click on the covers for more information or to buy the book.
As appears evident from the title of this book, it is the type of text one would use with Sunday school children or perhaps young schoolchildren. The premise seemed interesting. “Robert and Kait decide to look for the Golden ruler that their Mom has told them about, only to find out that she meant rule instead of ruler.” I thought there would be more of a search and more humor involved. This search takes three of the eleven pages. I had anticipated that the search would connect and lead into the value of the Golden rule but the two sections are completely isolated.
While searching, Kait asks Rob if it might be a ruler they can’t see. He thinks for a minute and realizes that it is a rule. Then suddenly he begins to explain it.
“It’s not a school ruler, or measuring tool…
It’s a rule that you live by, to give and to share,
A way to treat others to show that you care.”
From that point on the book explains how to treat others properly. It talks about thinking with head and heart, sharing, dealing with bullies, paying it forward, inclusion, and honesty.
The story is written in rhyme which is always difficult to do well. The rhythm and beat suit this style of book and are mostly consistent. For example:
The rule is treat others the way you would like
For them to treat you, and treat all just alike.
The rule is not something that money can buy.
It’s more of a way to help feel good inside.
And thinking of others is also a part
Of that rule, which means thinking with head and with heart.
The illustrations are reminiscent of old comic books but the characters have large heads and small bodies. The author has worked to be diverse. Of the eight children four are girls, and two are of African descent.
I believe this book is suited to a church or group library. It’s not the kind of book that a child will ask to hear again and again. I was hoping the message would be a little more subtle but these books do have their place.
I was given a free paperback copy of this book to donate to my Little Free Library in exchange for an honest book review.
Click on the cover to buy a copy.
Janet Ruth Heller is a fiction writer, poet, playwright, educator, memoir writer, and literary critic.
Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Janet. When do you find time to sleep?
Janet Ruth Heller: I have retired from teaching and write full-time. I published two books while I was teaching, but I have published four books since I retired in 2010. I still visit schools, libraries, book fairs, conferences, and bookstores to give creative writing workshops; discuss multicultural literature; discuss good books, movies, CDs, and videos to help children deal with bullying; give anti-bullying workshops; read my poetry and prose; and present my scholarly research on literature.
Ferrante: I found teaching not only took most of my time, but most of my creative energy as well. Retirement is so freeing.
I reviewed How the Moon Regained Her Shape on May 2, 2014. What were your goals and intentions with this book and how well do you feel you have achieved them?
Heller: I got badly bullied by various classmates when I was a new student in kindergarten. This abuse continued for several years. The bullying included name-calling, exclusion from activities, pushing, and stone-throwing. I did not know how to discourage my harassers, and I did not tell the teachers about the bullying. I wrote my fiction picture book How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006; 3rd edition 2012) to help other children understand bullying and to urge them not to remain silent. By telling friends, family members, teachers, coaches, neighbors, etc. about bullying, children and adults can make it difficult for harassers to continue their power trips.
Teachers tell me that after I visit a school to read How the Moon Regained Her Shape and to discuss bullying, students are more likely to report harassment.
Ferrante: Fabulous. We need to get it out in the open.
Your book has been included in two collections, Astronomy Set and the Overcoming Adversity Set. How did this come about?
Heller: My publisher, Arbordale (previously Sylvan Dell), often puts together groups of books with similar topics. I wrote the essay about bullying in the “Character” section online. I also edited the “For Creative Minds” section with activities for children at the end of the book How the Moon Regained Her Shape.
Ferrante: Your first picture book has won several awards (2006 Children’s Choices Award [Children’s Book Council and Int’l. Reading Association] 2007 Ben Franklin Award [Publishers Marketing Association] 2007 Moonbeam Gold Award) and received wonderful reviews. However there has been some negative response from First Nations peoples claiming that this is a distorted aboriginal folktale. Would you like to address this?
Heller: When I wrote How the Moon Regained Her Shape, I was researching Native American legends, customs, and folktales for an article that I was writing about the poetry of Judith Minty, who is part Mohawk. I also have a Native American friend who helped me during many crises; she is one of the people whom I dedicated this book to. The story in my picture book is completely my own. I did not borrow any words, ideas, or sentences from Native American authors. However, because I admire the lyrical style of First Nation stories, I tried to write my book with a similar style. I also love nature and agree with First Nation people’s view that the natural world is not separate from the human world.
Many educators complain that few books for children have people of color as main characters. How the Moon Regained Her Shape has two Native American main characters, Round Arms and Painted Deer. It also has a large group of First Nations women dancing with the moon and Round Arms. I created all of these characters from my respect and love for Native American culture.
Ferrante: What were your sources for your newest book, The Passover Surprise?
Heller: I was born in 1949 and am the oldest of five children in a Jewish family. When I was nine, my father set up a competition for a stamp album between my next-oldest brother and me. Although we both spent the same amount of time and effort collecting stamps, my father gave the album to my brother without any explanation. I did not know the words “sexism” and “favoritism” then, but I knew that something was very unfair, and I felt alienated from my father. However, I was too young to know how to confront him about his obvious bias.
My father served in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II and told me many stories about his experiences. As an adult, I also read his letters home to his parents and an autobiography that he wrote. I used details from these in The Passover Surprise.
When I was young, my family celebrated the Passover Seder with the family of my mother’s twin brother. The joint celebration with my aunt and uncle and my first cousins made the holiday very special. I adapted details from these Seders for The Passover Surprise.
I am a devout Jew. I often help to lead services at my synagogue, and I frequently chant from the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) and the Jewish prophets in Hebrew. I have also been a principal and a teacher at two Jewish religious schools.
No one has a right to discriminate against other people due to skin color, race, national origin, etc. The Civil Rights Movement emphasizes equal opportunity and fairness for everyone.
Also, just as many women in the 1800s got involved in the Women’s Movement after fighting for the abolition of slavery, many women in the twentieth century got involved in the Women’s Movement after fighting for civil rights for people of color. I attended my first feminist conference at Oberlin College around 1969, and I coordinated women’s organizations and rap groups at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Chicago. I’m a founding mother of the feminist literary journal Primavera, and I co-founded the Rape Crisis Center in Madison, Wisconsin.
Ferrante: Wow, that’s impressive.
The Passover Surprise raises the topic of sexism. Do you feel traditional religions need to address this topic?
Heller: Yes, I feel that many religions discriminate against women. In Jewish families, boys often get favored over girls. Until the 1970s, women could not become Jewish rabbis or cantors in the United States and in many other countries. The language of many prayer books and Bibles addresses primarily men and refers to God in masculine terms such as King and Lord, instead of using gender-fair nouns like Sovereign and Creator, etc. Such language makes women and girls feel left out and diminished.
I have been pushing for more inclusion of women in leadership positions and more egalitarian language in worship for many decades. We have adopted a gender-fair High Holiday prayer book, and we will soon vote on which of several gender-fair prayer books to use for the rest of the year. We have had many more women presidents of the synagogue recently.
Ferrante: That’s great to hear.
Ferrante: Besides your real birthday, what is one other date on the calendar that you think would have been a great day to be born?
Heller: My summer birthday is the date of my parents’ first anniversary. This has made the date doubly special to my family and to me. I would also like to be born on the Jewish holiday of Passover because of its emphasis on freedom and human dignity.
Ferrante: Whenever you’re having a bad day, what is the best thing you can do to help cheer yourself up?
Heller: I take a long walk to make myself feel better. I used to walk with my father when I was young.
Ferrante: What is your all-time favorite scene from a movie?
Heller: One of my favorites is in Sense and Sensibility (1995) based on Jane Austen’s novel by the same name. Elinor Dashwood, played by Emma Thompson, has been waiting patiently for at least a year to find out whether the man she has adored, Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), still loves her and can marry her. He was engaged to Lucy Steele previously. Elinor and Edward have been separated for many months. She has heard rumors that he has married Lucy. However, Edward comes to visit Elinor toward the end of the movie. She finds out that Edward’s brother married Lucy, but Edward is free to and wants to marry Elinor now. During this scene, Elinor’s tears turn to laughter and joy. Thompson plays this scene powerfully. The audience feels a great sense of relief that Elinor’s long wait is over and that she can soon live happily with Edward.
Ferrante: We all love a happy ending.
Thank you for spending time with us today. Best of luck with The Passover Surprise.
The Passover Surprise was reviewed on this blog on December 30, 2016.
Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.
Malcolm Devlin and the Shadow of a Hero begins with a riveting and heartbreaking chapter. Malcolm and his parents are a circus family. Mom stands in the middle of a centrifuge while dad drives around her at top speed on a motorcycle. Malcolm is never afraid as he firmly believes his mother’s love is unconditional and his father is invincible. As a result, Malcolm is protected and loved completely. What happens in the first chapter completely shatters Malcolm’s belief in personal safety and security.
When Malcolm’s father is killed being a hero, we understand the title of the book and the motivation of the protagonist. The reader is quickly invested in Malcolm’s well-being and wants to know what will happen to him.
Fatherless, and living with a mother who has lost her glow, Malcolm lives in constant fear. His coping mechanism is to separate himself from society and try to be invisible to the bullies that inevitably dog his life. When his mother sets up her traveling flea market in the theatre of a small town, Malcolm is targeted by three dangerous, violent bullies. The leader of this trio is the grandson of the harsh and manipulative mayor. Malcolm seems doomed.
Just when things seem the most hopeless, in walks a mysterious gypsy woman with a magical trade. She promises it will help him live without ever being lonely or afraid, the two most dominant emotions in his life. What unfolds is humorous, touching and suspenseful.
The only time this book did not feel believable was during the fire scene but that is probably because I have been researching this topic recently for my own work.
This is the kind of book that would translate easily onto the big screen. There are laugh out loud scenes that would be even funnier to watch. Although some things are little clichéd, it doesn’t matter because the character of Malcolm is so well-rounded and lovable that we buy everything at face value. The author has a talent for atmosphere and characterisation. Readers 10 years old and up will find time flying by as they enjoy this wonderful book.
A copy of this book was generously donated by the author to my Little Free Library.
Author Melissa Carter is owner of The Wholistic Package. Melissa offers positive and empowering services to promote physical, emotional and spiritual wholeness as well as personal and professional wellness and growth. Services include Reiki, writing, mentoring/motivational speaking and inspirational apparel. Melissa works full time in marketing, is involved with several women’s networking groups and was recently named a “Woman of Distinction,” by “Women of Distinction” magazine as well as “Ms. New York, 2016,” by Woman of Achievement organization.
Bonnie Ferrante: Well, Melissa. With all that going on in your life, it’s amazing that you found time to write a picture book. Its theme certainly fits you. Your book, Little Lucky Ladybug, shows children that they are all unique and beautiful. Why did you choose to focus on this message?
Melissa Carter: I feel as though this is an extremely important message for young children and really all people. I feel that if you instill this message in children at a young age, it may carry with them throughout their lives. It’s not only to instill the message that we are all unique and to accept ourselves for who we are, but to accept other people for who they are as well.
Ferrante: Why did you use a ladybug instead of a child as a protagonist?
Carter: I love ladybugs because they represent luck and they exude a “light,” that makes people happy, especially children! Ladybugs are cheerful characters and I believe are a great representation of the message of my book.
Ferrante: Your book doesn’t just have a story. There’s more to it.
Carter: The book also includes activity pages because I wanted the book to be interactive for kids, to not only encourage literacy, but to offer additional learning tools as well.
Ferrante: Little Lucky Ladybug has received some wonderful recognition.
Carter: Yes, the book was recently listed on Pacer’s website. They are a national anti-bullying organization. It was also recently given away as “book of the week,” on Macaroni Kid’s national Facebook page.
Ferrante: How do you think parents can ensure that their children’s self-esteem remains strong into adulthood?
Carter: I believe parents can ensure their children’s self-esteem remains strong, by always encouraging them to be themselves, believe in themselves and follow their dreams. I’m fortunate to have had the support from my family and continue to have their support.
Ferrante: You have just recently started writing children’s books, having previously been a poet. Do you feel your experience as a poet has helped you writing picture books? How?
Carter: I absolutely love poetry and my writing reflects that. My book consists of rhymes and I feel like that adds to the story. I worked with an amazing illustrator, but the illustration ideas were actually my ideas. I cannot draw, but could visualize what I wanted the illustrations to look like, and I provided the illustration ideas to my illustrator and she did an amazing job, bringing them to life.
Ferrante: That would be Jeanne A. Benas.
What did you learn, while writing this book, that you did not expect?
Carter: I have always known that I have a passion for writing and that I love helping others. I learned that this book, would be the opportunity to collaborate these two things. Not only would this book be an inspiration for others to expand on their writing talents, but it would have a message of literacy, positive self-image, and anti-bullying.
Ferrante: In your opinion, what is the best piece of music ever written?
Carter: I love this question because my mom is a musician. I have always loved and continue to love music. My mom plays piano by ear, and I was always fascinated when she would play, “Flight of the Bumblebee.” I think the composition is very interesting and entertaining. A lot of my writing inspiration comes from musical lyrics. My favorite musician is Sarah McLachlan. I was always a fan of her musical poetry. I’m working on other books, however I’m also looking into lyric writing as well. Stay tuned!
Ferrante: If you could hear a speech from the leading figure in any field, who would you choose to hear?
Carter: I would love to hear a speech from Oprah regarding her journey from journalism to her current status. I’m not fascinated by her financial status, but I’m fascinated by the platform that she built and how many lives have been inspired through her involvement in the world. My own journey began in the communications field and my goal is to expand my own platform, to inspire, encourage and empower others as well. I would love to hear about her journey and her “a-ha moments,” as she refers to them.
Ferrante: If the daytime high temperature had to be exactly the same every day of the year, what would you want the temperature to be?
Carter: 78F and sunny, with no humidity (I have naturally curly hair!) I was born during a sunrise in June. I live in upstate NY and do appreciate all seasons, however if I could enjoy the sunshine and warmth, year-round, that would be great. Summer is my season! I also love being outside, whether it’s working out, kayaking, enjoying a summer breeze and I love writing at my lake house, overlooking the water. There’s a peace and calm in that and it is very relaxing, but sparks my creative thoughts as well.
Ferrante: That sounds wonderful.
Your book certainly has value, Melissa. Thank you for participating in my Three Random Questions Interview series.
Other links for Melissa Carter.
Little Lucky Ladybug will be reviewed on this blog November 11, 2016.
Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.
Lucia Greene knows how to build suspense and create believable plots. A Tunnel in the Pines progresses at a fast pace and it’s difficult to put the book down. We have a foreshadowing of what might happen but we’re not sure what the final outcome will be. As the story builds and the sinister possibilities grow, we become more and more sure there’s going to be a tragedy. But, is it going to be exactly like the foreshadowing or is it going to be an unexpected twist? Will Taylor, Wills older brother, protect the younger boys or continue to bully and intimidate them along with Strat, the creepy, dangerous muscle guy.
Wills, and his best friend Andrew, have the best intentions when they start a club but things get out of hand quite quickly when the older boys take over. Unknown to Andrew, Wills has discovered that his friend has asthma but is keeping it a secret. Andrew is afraid he will become even more of a target but we know that some secrets can be fatal. The plot is tight and tells just enough details to keep the reader engaged.
The author draws a repeated parallel between the worms and the boys. Her use of Darwin’s information enriches both the story and the characters. The dialogue of the boys is completely believable as is their behavior, although I was frustrated and angry with Will’s older brother, Taylor.
As the situation unfolds, the reader is reassured that tragedy is on the way but how big and how final isn’t revealed until the end.
Lucia Greene is a polished, skillful writer whose words reel you in and keep you hooked to the very end. You care, deeply, about these kids and about the final outcome. The words flow so professionally that the reader is never conscious of the text but is, instead, completely immersed in the story.
The author, Lucia Greene, was interviewed on this blog here.
A copy of this book was generously donated by the author to my Little Free Library.
Oh so brave dragon is also not brave at the beginning of this story. In fact, he is a braggart and a bit of a bully. He scares the bunnies, the birds, the bees and all the little creatures of the forest. But, when he does a fierce and mighty roar, he hears something frightening in return. I assume it’s an echo but it isn’t made completely clear in the book.
When the dragon assumes there is a fearsome creature nearby, he tells all the little creatures, “The monster is near! I’ll protect you. Come in close. Will roar together and scared away!” He redeems himself by wrapping his wings protectively around them. Together they roar as loud as possible and when they feel the monster is gone, the brave little dragon invites them to stay under his wings until they feel completely safe.
The illustrations are double page spreads with the words written in blank spots. The animals are cutesy, but not overly so. The pictures are detailed and charming.
This book lends itself well to some meaningful discussions about bravado, bullying, and true courage.