Patricia Polacco has done it again. Book after book she manages to tackle tough topics in an approachable and honest manner. In “Bully,” she keeps up with the times and considers bullying in the modern age of email, texting, and Facebook. While this isn’t something that is impacting my nine year old yet, thank goodness, I know that there will come a day when it rings true.
Lyla is new to the area and going to a new school. Like all new kids, she is trying to figure things out in her new environment. She immediately befriends Jamie, who is also new. The two are both in 6th grade and notice how the lunchroom separates into cliques. Lyla also notices that everyone seems to have a cell phone. Jamie tells her that she needs a phone, a laptop, and to get set-up in Facebook.
A few weeks later, when Lyla starts to get good grades and becomes a cheerleader, one of the “celebrity girls,” starts to pay attention to her. By mid-year she is considered “good enough” to sit at the celebrity table. But before that could happen, Lyla also needed a makeover.
The next day when the celebrity girls realize that Lyla is friends with Jamie, they make fun of him and she feels that he has to be her friend outside of school only. One day at one of the girls’ houses, they take their name calling one step further by “scum dumping.” This is when they go onto Facebook and write vicious things on people’s pages, including Jamie’s. Lyla asks him why people do it and he remarkably answers that “some people aren’t happy unless they are putting someone else down.” From that moment on, Lyla spent less and less time with the mean girls.
But Lyla wasn’t going to get off so easily. “No one dumps us, Lyla, we do the dumping.” Gage and her friends set Lyla up to look like she has stolen the test and compromised it for everyone else. Jamie manages to come to her rescue, but the damage is already done.
Lyla had to face a major bully. Gage didn’t look like a mean kid from the outside, but she had a hateful streak. As Lyla’s father said, “in order for people like Gage’s candle to glow brighter, she has to blow out yours.”
Middle school is tough. Everyone is figuring out who they are as individuals and judgements are made for superficial reasons. Junior high school was hard enough some decades ago when I was in it, I can’t imagine it in the age of cyber-bullying. We try to teach kids early on about bullying and kindness, but it is still a hard concept to grasp and something that they will most likely have to deal with. Another blog post is in the works about books for younger kids, but this is a must read for the 4th grade and up.