Sunday, January 15, 2012

Toe to Toe: Bullies Never Win by Margery Cuyler

Jessica was a worrier.

But in Mr. Martin's first-grade class, Jessica had one big worry: Brenda Bailey.

Brenda was perfect. Her bangs were even.

Her homework was always right.

She wore a new outfit every day.

And she scowled when Jessica did something better than she did.

It's obvious that Brenda is determined, even in first grade, to be the queen bee, and she's figured out that Jessica is the competition. Brenda sets out to head off a potential rival at the pass, and her weapon of choice is the deftly delivered putdown. She knocks Jessica's knobby knees. She nails her with the nickname of "Toothpick." She slyly whispers that Jessica gets her work right by cheating. And then when Jessica accidentally winds up with her brother's lunchbox, she inadvertently hands Brenda the perfect putdown:

"Jessica's got a boy's lunchbox!

Hey, Toothpick! No wonder you're so skinny. You eat BABY FOOD!"

For days Jessica eats alone or leaves the lunchroom hungry to avoid Brenda's taunts. Finally she tearfully tells her mom the whole story. Mom listens and tells Jessica that she either has to tell her teacher what's going on or stand up to Brenda on her own. Jessica doesn't want to add fuel to Brenda's teasing by being a tattletale, which means she has to figure out a way to beat Brenda at her own quick-quip game. And, of course, Brenda soon gives her that opportunity, and when she does, Jessica is ready.

Jessica the worrier is back in veteran author Margery Cuyler's fourth book about her, Bullies Never Win (Simon & Schuster, 2010), again ably and humorously illustrated by the notable Arthur Howard. Although Jessica's verbal confrontation obviously isn't the only route to go with a classroom bully, Cuyler's account rings true for first-grade girl social politics and offers parents, teachers, and counselors a good resource in initiating conversation about the problem of non-physical social abuse in the early grades.

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