ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “The Enchanted Rope” by David D. Bernstein

The Enchanted Rope by David D. Bernstein

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Young Jack’s mother has become an angel.

He misses her singing him to sleep, misses her reading him fairy tales and misses her love of wildflowers and dragons.

Under the Alaskan sun, in a field of dreams, Jack gathers up one hundred wildflowers and starts to weave an enchanted rope so he can climb up to the world of angels his mother is in. A school of salmon, a clan of wolves, a brown bear, and one bold eagle watch him as he weaves and weaves and finally sends the magic rope far up into the air.

When he returns from his adventure, he sees one red flower is missing from the rope. Jack smiles. He knows what that means.

In this magical and touching tale for children ages 6 to 8, David Bernstein explores the loss of a loved one by a young boy and offers an imaginative and comforting view of the possibility of reconnecting with someone who may have gone from earth, but who is not, in truth, gone.

REVIEW:

This week is something of a reunion for me, in that I’ve actually read the book I’m reviewing several times before, and am only now ready to post the review. I have also reviewed a book by this author before, and you may remember his name from my review of the middle grade novel The Portal several weeks ago.

So, why the delay?

The Enchanted Rope is a story of loss, grief, and what comes after. In particular, it depicts a child who has lost his mother and who desperately seeks to stay connected with her by weaving a rope made from her favorite wildflowers. It has a happy ending, in that he meets his mother in “the great beyond” (to quote Soul), albeit in a transformed state, and they do end up maintaining the connection he was so desperate to recreate. Those who know me well already know this, but my own mother has undergone a “health journey” of her own over the last five months, one that she is lucky to have survived––and yet she is changed, fundamentally, as the result of months of cascading problems totaling to a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). The first few months I spent by her side, I thought we might have lost her. I am so, so grateful that her story didn’t end there, though, and that despite her total transformation as a person as a result I have another chance to forge my own new connection to her before facing the struggle that Jack, the boy at the heart of Bernstein’s The Enchanted Rope, must go through at the beginning of this book.

Yup, I read a children’s picture book about a child grieving the loss of his mother while I was at the bedside of my own precious mother, not knowing her fate. And as the weeks ticked by with little apparent progress, my ability to handle fictional portrayals of grief and loss over sick or lost mothers took a bit of a nose-dive. (Thus the delay. I’m so sorry about that.) I was already the kind of person to cry over a really good Christmas commercial, or anything involving injured animals, but this experience has sensitized me to a whole new range of possible emotional triggers. Including Disney (Disney+?) movies. Mothers don’t tend to last long or be very caring/capable in most of the animated classics. Even the new live-action Beauty and the Beast highlights the fact that Beauty’s mother has passed away and that she and her father grieve daily for her. My heart, my heart.

I should note at this point that The Enchanted Rope was not itself triggering for me, merely that its subject was one I wasn’t terribly well equipped to handle for a while, and yet I’m so grateful to get to review it now. In my years as a librarian, I came to realize that there are relatively few books for toddlers through elementary school that grapple with loss. There aren’t even a huge number of books on the subject of losing pets! (One good one, though, is Big Cat, Little Cat.) I continue to hope that authors and illustrators will add to the general canon more beautiful, sincere, and helpful books on grief. That David D. Bernstein goes down this road is in and of itself a rare thing for a children’s author, and that he finds a way to give voice to a child in need of connection to a lost loved one is rarer still. Sally Taylor’s illustrations are colorful and eye-catching, too.

I think I’m one of those people who will always have a soapbox on balancing the text-to-page ratio in picture books, and I can’t even blame the typography professor at my alma mater, since I cleverly (and errantly) arranged to skip that class, despite my minor in Illustration. As Bernstein’s book goes on, there is simply more story that he wants to share than in its early pages, where he communicates much with very few words. I try to remind myself in many ways, though, that any objections I have on this front come down to taste, and not necessarily even all that educated of a taste, if we’re talking about my own. (Just imagine a self-conscious laugh-cry emoji here!) I doubt many of Bernstein’s readers would even notice the shift in text-to-page, much less object. It’s just … a thing that is there. There are one or two typos to get excited about, but nothing that detracts from what I believe to be an invaluable central message:

As Bernstein might put it, one’s connection to people gone or transformed is not necessarily severed by death, and in remembering and cultivating the kinds of beautiful things that our loved ones loved, we maintain our relationships with those who leave us for what comes next. Love, imagination, and a bit of arts-and-crafts know-how can be healing to the hurting heart. More of this, please!

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find The Enchanted Rope by David D. Bernstein wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about it on the book’s Outskirts Press listing.

WHAT NEXT?

Next week I will be posting my review for Kevin Fodor’s memoir, Turn it Up! Confessions of a Radio Junkie.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.

SONY DSC

ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “A Trail of Many Tales: The Discovery of the Fish Lake Cutoff Along the Old Spanish Trail” by Robert W. Leonard, Jr.

(Click and hold the slider icon on the image below to view front and back covers.)

“A Trail of Many Tales: The Discovery of the Fish Lake Cutoff Along the Old Spanish Trail” by Robert W. Leonard, Jr. & edited by Jennifer Strong

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Whether four-legged animals or two-legged humans, trails are followed and retraced by an assortment of creatures through the centuries on the easiest paths through the landscape. They were always on some type of mission whether looking for forage, food, water, or ports of call. Humans, from the 16th through the 19th centuries were most always on some military or commercial enterprise between destination points. The Old Spanish Trail was used for both purposes: Spanish traders from at least 1795 to the railroad surveys of the early-1850s. Commercially, hundreds of mules left Santa Fe carrying woolen goods for the Californios. In return, thousands of horses and mules were herded back to New Mexico and then up the Santa Fe trail to Middle America.

Trail of Many Tales relates the history of the trail in south central Utah by combining first-hand accounts, tribal lore, works of history, archaeology and state of the art scientific methods. Come on along and learn how large groups of animals were herded by not so many men and our identification of their trails, some 1,000 feet wide, that still can be isolated on small sections of the overland route.

REVIEW:

Have you ever spent time obsessing over Wagon Train stories or settlement in the American West–either digitally or as a traveler yourself? Have you spent an absurd amount of time going down the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia when it comes to interesting historical events or social histories? I have, and chances are some of my readers here have done so, too. This book is for you, my rabbit hole and history buff readers!

In structure, A Trail of Many Tales: The Discovery of the Fish Lake Cutoff Along the Old Spanish Trail combines the best features of both academic publications and the sort of widely-used guide books that show up on library shelves. Speaking from my experience checking out books for library visitors, the Falcon Guides book on Italy is extremely popular, but all books of this nature, especially the local or regional ones, are much-looked-for by readers and travelers. This makes Robert W. Leonard, Jr.’s A Trail of Many Tales both extraordinarily practical for those wishing to know more about its story or are hiking in the area, and extremely authoritative and trustworthy from a technical or academic perspective. Photographs pepper sections where they provide both an oft-needed “sense of place” and examples of the sorts of modern remnants of the area’s usage at its several peaks. Everything is properly credited in the academic fashion with short descriptive captions, so the images are both enjoyable from a casual standpoint and compliant with copyright from an academic one. Many of them were taken by the author himself while researching the routes.

The written sections are, I promise you, highly readable due to the author Leonard’s straightforward style of expression, but non-academic readers ought to be able to sense from the outset that the book wasn’t written entirely with them in mind, and that there are some structural differences between the architecture of scholarly publications and commercially produced guides. As an example, the book provides table of contents instead of the more simple chapter listings of creative travelogue nonfiction (I’m thinking here of Travels in Siberia, which I read a couple of years ago, as a popular example of that particular form.) Only the very occasional typo (probably from word processors’ tendency to transpose letters) would indicate that this book didn’t have a bevy of interns and salaried editors scrutinizing every line. There are also some acronyms and unfamiliar terms to those of us not terribly familiar with the sort of technologies available in the 1800s–Terms like swales or the Dixie Harrow project, some Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Service acronyms I didn’t immediately recognize, and some other technical terms that sent me straight to the Index and Appendices included at the very end of the book …. as well as my graduate work at the University of Arizona, where I spent considerable time in various laboratories conducting some writerly research of my own.

Despite its (very occasional) quirks, A Trail of Tales was absolutely engrossing. I got so sucked in by the various histories and experiences of the Old Spanish Trail (acronym: OST) that I stayed up past 3 in the morning reading and re-reading several sections, including the area’s regional pre-Columbus slave trade (horrifying in a True Crime sort of fashion) and its historical importance to the Church of Latter-Day Saints. And let me tell you, I sacrifice my sleep only for the most interesting and readable of books. If I have made any typos in my review, I blame several late nights obsessing over this book. And tree rings. And public land management in America. I have been known to fall asleep even before finishing a single article in home decoration magazines–usually before 10 in the evening–so you get a sense of how this book reeled me right in.

SIDE NOTE: the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research there is absolutely fabulous as both a building and a research institution. It provides a brief summary of the basics of tree-ring research, including some of the technical terms used in this book, on the “About Tree Rings” page on their website as well as by live virtual tours of the building that help give digital visitors a better sense of the place; the Laboratory also makes available live virtual tours of the building for students. (I’ll admit, since March of 2020 the existence of virtual tours was not a fact that I regularly thought about; since COVID-19 has shut down public access to many, many important places, such as the major museums of Europe, the Smithsonian, and even some restaurants have become much more popular–and useful. Useful to, for example, the future college freshmen wanting to know what sort of campus they’ll choose to land on, once on-site learning picks up again.)

While I do think that there is a great deal to interest a wide readership in A Tail of Trails, I know for certain that travelers–both serious hikers and tourists for history like those who follow any of the Wagon Trail routes to the American West)–as well as researchers and American history buffs will find it of particular importance. Author and fellow-traveler–not to mention researcher–Leonard does a great job of contextualizing the Old Spanish Trail and this book’s specific sections of the OST within the larger history of migration (whether the trafficking of slaves or white settlers and adventurers). I feel like I understand the place, what it means to different people as well as a detailed understanding of what it would be like to stand on a riverbank in Tommy Hollow. I’m so glad this book came to my attention, and to have a chance to read it!

IN SUMMARY:

In A Trail of Many Tales: The Discovery of the Fish Lake Cutoff Along the Old Spanish Trail, author Robert W. Leonard, Jr. leads his readers through the documented history and his own boots-on-the-grounds research of a well-used (historically speaking, at least) shortcut of the Old Spanish Trail. Up until the publication of Leonard’s book, there had been no widespread awareness of this cutoff’s importance or its popularity and its usage as a Pre-Columbus trade route between New Mexico (who supplied, among other things, textiles and mules) and California as well as the traders residing in the Fishlake National Forest’s area (who provided, among other things, Indigenous peoples as slaves for manual labor). The author provides a fascinating look into the world of dendrochronology and other scientific research, and keeps readers hooked by his own compelling obsession with–and research trips to–the cutoff and surrounds. I could not have stumbled across either a more interesting guide book or–bonus feature!–a more thorough and authoritative work of historical or scientific research. A Trail of Tales is a fantastic book.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find A Trail of Many Tales: The Discovery of the Fish Lake Cutoff Along the Old Spanish Trail by Robert W. Leonard, Jr. wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about it on the book’s Outskirts Press listing.

WHAT NEXT?

Oh, don’t get me started! I have over twenty items checked out from my local library and a score of non-library books in poorly-organized piles around my physical space … and digital ebook space. Many of these (ten, maybe?) I have already started, but thanks to … (*gestures at all of 2020*) … I have the attention span of a restless cat, so I’m reading them all at once or a bit at a time, sequentially. I don’t have a specific one I’d pull out of that pile quite yet for my next review––but I have a lot of candidates jostling for the space. Very likely I’ll have to keep up a rapid pace with my reviews over the coming months. Thank you for reading my review, and I hope you are able to read this book yourself!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Bookshop.org book listing.


SONY DSC

ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “The Portal” (CORT Chronicles Book 1) by David D. Bernstein

“The Portal” (CORT Chronicles Book 1) by David D. Bernstein; illustrated by Richa Kinra

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

After falling into a time portal during a Little League baseball game in Trinity, New York, eleven-year-old Andy finds himself transported to a ghostly version of his hometown––101 years in the future. Twisted metal, rotten wood, and garbage litter the seemingly empty streets, but Andy will soon discover that the city is controlled by CORT robots . . . and that this reality is Earth’s possible future. When thirteen-year-old Zack receives a strange letter that guides him through the portal, he and his brother are reunited, and together they must journey through a nightmare world that only they can change. But how can two young boys alter the present by saving the future?

REVIEW:

101 years in the future, thirteen-year-old Zack and eleven-year-old Andy find themselves caught up in a new civil war. After various misadventures including time-traveling portals at baseball fields and old abandoned supermarkets, a three-dimensional letter, and a ruined library full of frightful reminders that they are nowhere near home, the boys team up with future teenage resistance fighter Wendy and her crew. The boys face trial after trial as they begin to figure out what, exactly, is going on in this future: fifty years of cultural memory has vanished, and every possible thing is now manufactured by a shadowy organization––CORT. Children and seniors live segregated lives, with children brainwashed into accepting the new system from toddlerhood. One of the boys is captured, leading to the formation of a rescue party and a cliffhanger ending.

Now, I personally am not the biggest fan of cliffhangers! Many a young adult or middle grade novel has been flung across the room in my house because of an unfinished series leaving readers hooked–and frustrated that they can’t keep going the minute they finish earlier books in the series. (I do not condone the throwing of books, whether print or digital. As a librarian, here is my obligatory reminder to take good care of your precious stories.) Having said all of this, I do know that cliffhangers are an effective tool in an author’s toolbox, and that the mere fact I’m still grumbling about those cliffhangers from the distant past indicates those authors have made good use of this particular tool. Still, I am eager to lay my hands on the next book in this series so that I can learn the ultimate fates of Zack, Andy, and Wendy.

Middle grade readers will probably also be familiar with dystopias–future worlds where the systems governing society and/or government have somehow gone awry and are no longer serving to protect and serve those people who remain. There is always some rather mature themes involved in communicating dystopic ideas, and The Portal is no exception. Parents and readers should be aware that bombs fly and skeletons turn up at the most inopportune times, and yet the reading level or difficulty of this series indicates that it is written for those transitioning from Easy Reader (ER) books into chapter books. I could see this being a hit with the demographic currently (if clunkily) referred to as “struggling readers”: in other words, those children struggling to make the transition in reading level difficulty to the Junior Fiction section of the local school or public library. (I’m thinking of the Dork Diaries audience here.) The combination of an action-driven plot. lower-difficulty language, and eye-catching illustrations set these books apart from your more standard chapter books.

And those illustrations–I really can’t say enough about Richa Kinra’s ability to communicate so much in simple black-and-white pencil sketches. The face of each and every character is just so expressive, and important details within the story well featured. I’ve been drawing and painting since I could hold a pencil (or brush) and I absolutely could not even halfway imitate Kinra’s fantastic work.

What’s not to love? There are action sequences: The bombs! The evil robots! The people running! The purple flames! And there are also the mysteries: Who sent the letter? And how? Where do the seniors and children go? What is CORT really after? How did the resistance first get started? At around 75 pages, Bernstein’s first book in this series only just hints at answers still to come. Despite the occasional typographical hiccup, The Portal reads as a fun, immersive romp. Here’s hoping there are many installments left to come!

IN SUMMARY:

Going into this book, I expected it to be solidly good. I’ve never yet been disappointed by any book picked out by the CIPA EVVY process as a merit or award winner, and The Portal was in keeping with that high expectation. As much a work of fantasy as it is of science fiction, this book is very much written with a middle grade audience in mind, and is packed with the kind of zany adventures junior readers love.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find The Portal wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about it on the book’s Outskirts Press listing.

WHAT NEXT?

The next book on my list is rather a pithy one: a nonfiction exploration of both the present and historical past of the Old Spanish Trail, portions of which I happen to be a bit familiar with, but much of which has intrigued me for years! I’m definitely the kind of person that can get lost in a guidebook to (name a national forest or park or monument) or any book along the lines of A Roadside Geology of … book. Much to look forward to!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Bookshop.org book listing.


SONY DSC

ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Our Story: Jamaica’s Visionary Experimental Secondary Classes (1954-1960)” ed. by Jonathan Goodrich & Owen Everard James

“Our Story” ed. by Jonathan Goodrich & Owen Everard James

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Equal opportunity for children to access “good education” has to be one of the primary obligations of any government. In a developing country like Jamaica, such opportunity is tantamount to ensuring the country’s viability if not its very survival. OUR STORY is a collection of first-person narratives by graduates of one of the most visionary and effective yet undocumented experiments in the history of secondary education in the English speaking Caribbean. The poetic prose of graduate Trevor Thomas highlights this shortcoming: “A brilliant meteor had streaked across the bleakness of Jamaica’s education landscape, briefly illuminating its dark canopy, but attracted scant attention, and the remains were unceremoniously buried without headstone or epitaph.”

The observation of Prof. Emeritus, the Hon. Errol Miller, OJ, CD, Ph.D., DLL (Honoris Causa), an internationally recognized scholar on the subject, further emphasizes the sentiment in his exceptional foreword: “Our Story recounts and reflects upon a unique chapter in the history of Jamaican secondary education told sixty-seven years after it began and sixty years after it ended by some students who assess its impact on their lives.”

Although OUR STORY focuses on the period 1954-1960, it directly references critical antecedents as well as pivotal outcomes from the period, especially in the area of Education Policy. The revolutionary role of the Hon. Edwin Leopold Allen, the then Minister of Education who envisioned and implemented the Experimental Secondary Classes, and the notable teachers that were the definitive agents of the success of the endeavor are recognized. The inextricable connection between the Classes and the broader history of Secondary Education in Jamaica is boldly clarified in the volume.

OUR STORY references Jamaica’s political, economic, and cultural history as these unfolded during the period immediately preceding and immediately following, national Independence in 1962. The absence of the story of the Classes from the larger narrative of secondary education in Jamaica substantiates a void in the history that should be addressed. This history and the related influence of the imposed, traditional, generally elitist, and highly discriminatory, imposed British system of education are well known and documented. This history is therefore not the main driver of this effort. Instead, the effort is driven by the realization that the Experimental Secondary Classes have not received the recognition and credit that they unquestionably deserve.

The historical linkages with our own stories demand that we acknowledge the nature, cause, consequences, and relevance of the international protests instigated by the worldwide recognition of systemic discrimination against people of color. It would be irresponsible not to do so. The common origins, direct relevance, and impact on how we may view our own heritage, and the future of the land of our birth are inescapable. Notably, the protests are in direct response to historical inequities in the opportunity to access crucial socio-cultural prerequisites such as education, justice, and the benefits that generally accrue from a clearly flawed, artfully marketed participatory economy that is extensively dependent on the education status of participants.

Hopefully, as the stories are told and read, the telling will not be in vain.

REVIEW:

If this last year has taught me anything, it’s that our education systems (globally speaking) still leave a lot to be desired. One might say they “need some work.” When students’ education suffers, no matter what grade or level they are at, society suffers––both in the moment and for decades to come. I had the benefit of an unconventional childhood, with a mix of homeschooling with dedicated and deeply invested parents, and a middle and high school education overseas. I can’t speak for the intervening years since I finished high school, but at the time, that particular education system ranked fairly high on the various “best education systems” lists that are released every year. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was challenging in some really good ways that prepared me incredibly well for college.

I can’t say the same was true for my fellow students in college and graduate school––many of my friends struggled, especially in the first two semesters, with the workload and the different ways of thinking that university-level courses require of students. I remember feeling rather proud to have received a “better” education (although to an extent that word is subjective), and now I feel a bit ashamed of having lorded that over my friends. As many research reports have shown, blame for poor performance across American school districts and elsewhere shouldn’t be placed on the shoulders of the students or teachers––the system itself is broken, and the fractures show at every level, from childhood through adulthood.

In Our Story: Jamaica’s Visionary Experimental Secondary Classes (1954-1960), editors Jonathan Goodrich and Owen Everard James have collected the background, methods, and results of a unique educational experiment carried out in Jamaica during a six-year periods ending in 1960. It is, I must say, an exhaustive document––fully book-length––about this educational programme, and yet it is also fascinating. I knew very little about the history of education in Jamaica and the other Caribbean islands, merely that it had been altered irrevocably by the area’s colonization by various foreign actors, namely Spain and Britain, and the import of imperial cultures along with slave labor from Africa (and later, indentured Chinese and Indian peoples). The native Taino peoples had been devastated, so I only expected that the country’s education system would reflect norms established during the British occupation. This book deals with what was essentially an educational experiment carried out in the years immediately prior to Jamaica’s emancipation in 1962, making it an interesting historical document of a time of great change on the island––and the ways in which all of these changes impacted how education was done. And indeed, the first chapter alone documents far to many of these changes for me to summarize effectively here.

As is stated in the forward, “Our Story is about fruitful lives: some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold and some a hundred-fold, made possible by access to good quality education with international currency.” It is, by its mere existence, a document that refutes the argument that educational success ought to be approached in the same way as business success. The book draws on personal recollections collected well after the fact, and the editors acknowledge both the benefits (hindsight and lived experiences) and the drawbacks (erroneous and incomplete memories of events as they happened) of this approach. Its editors set the scene for the unfolding of this particular experiment by first describing the various (and often ad hoc) other competing systems in use during this period. But as Goodrich and James put it, the book exists not to focus on these things but rather the experiment itself––the ESCs (Experimental Secondary Class)––and to remedy the fact that these classes had never “received the recognition and credit that they unquestionably deserve.”

A quick note for those of you who like to know such things: There is a religious inflection to this book and the educational experiment it documents. This is something of an historical artifact of the period being discussed––and of the British heritage and influence that even now persists in an independent Jamaica.

Would the ESC system work today, in 2021, in my country? I have no idea. It would certainly require a complete restructuring of the system––a system admittedly that I’ve previously described as “broken.” In this I’m not exactly unusual; almost everyone I know is unhappy with the current state of things and with the quality of education that children and teenagers are receiving. The challenge isn’t one of motivation, but rather execution: How can a country overhaul its educational system without a period of great disorganization, and without protest against the ways and means of getting it done? Goodrich and James document one possibility, carried out as an experiment with a limited reach that still managed to make a vast difference. I would certainly recommend that educators and administrators take a look at this book––it might just prove the very thing that’s needed going forward.

IN SUMMARY:

Editors Goodrich and James cover the results of the Experimental Secondary Class (ESC) programme in Jamaica in the years before that country’s independence. The book provides a thorough and inspiring template for modern educators to learn from as we continue to face educational systems drained of funds and adequate support, as well as the freedom to innovate.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Obsolete wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about it on the book’s Outskirts Press listing.

WHAT NEXT?

The next book on my list is The Portal by David Bernstein, which won a CIPA EVVY merit award back in 2018 for Juvenile Fiction. It’s a work of fantastical science fiction, and promises me robots and time portals, so I’m quite excited about that!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Bookshop.org book listing.


SONY DSC

ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “When the Bullying Stops,” by Bernice L. Dunlap

Welcome to 2021!

And … on to the review!

When the Bullying Stopped by Bernice L. Dunlap

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

KEEPING SILENT ABOUT BULLYING ENABLES IT TO CONTINUE

This story is about an eight-year-old boy named Peter, who was in the third grade at Leonard Street Elementary School. Alex and his friends, Max and Jax, picked on Peter every day. These boys were also in the third grade at the same school. This bullying made life miserable for Peter, and he knew he had to find the courage to tell his parents how Alex and his friends were terrorizing him at school.

REVIEW:

Oh, how the world needs more books like this one.

In When the Bullying Stopped, written by Bernice L. Dunlap and nicely illustrated by Julia Andrzejewska, we start with three bullies and one victim: Peter. Peter is a bit less muscled and a whole lot less of a dominant personality than Alex, the bullies’ ringleader, as well as Max and Jax, Alex’s sidekicks. (I am curious why the author chose to end all three bullies’ names in ‘X’s! I found it interesting––but that may just be coincidental.) Alex and co. give poor Peter a rather rough time, trashing his lunch one day and stealing his lunch money the next. Peter is a good boy, although he feels mighty small when faced by those bullies, so while he is at first afraid enough to go hungry, he eventually brings his parents and the school principal into the conversation, and just desserts (suspensions) are handed out to the three villains. Two of these villains, Jax and Max, move out of town (and therefore the narrative) at this point, while Alex continues on.

The book then transitions to following Alex instead of Peter, and here is where the bully becomes the bullied. Some kids from another local school rough Alex up, and he is left injured and frightened by the experience. Peter, who is indeed a very good boy, attempts to help his former bully despite Alex’s protests and the other kids in the schoolyard keeping well enough away. (I assume this is because they themselves had been hurt by Alex and co. in the past, and were hesitant to get near him––but this might prove an interesting point for discussion.) Peter then searches out the principal on his own and finds Alex the help he needs. Receiving assistance from someone he has wronged in the past proves a good learning experience for Alex, who eventually changes his ways and makes friends with Peter, gaining the confidence of his other peers as well.

All of this, and in only 24 pages!

The book pages are divided evenly between alternating full-page illustrations and full-page text-centered pages. There is quite a lot of text on those latter pages, proportionate to the page number, so I do recommend that readers take it slow and spend ample time pointing out what they see mirrored in the illustrations. The text is nicely edited and formatted for When the Bullying Stops to be an easy read for those who, like me in my library life, have to read their picture books upside down. I appreciate a readable-while-inverted book!

While I did not notice any negatives while reading, I do have two suggestions in order to ensure that those using this book meet with the best possible success. Parents, grandparents, teachers, and other caregivers will want to make sure to define and contextualize some of the more advanced words or terms used by Dunlap; a word like “protruding” or a term like “fetal position” are entirely possible to explain, especially in context, but they are unlikely to prove easily understandable to younger readers in kindergarten or, possibly, first grade. My other suggestion for these same youngest readers would be to break up the reading of the book into two distinct readings with some discussion in between as well as after. While the story itself is straightforward, the first section deals with a victim of bullying making the great decision to report his experiences to his parents and principal, and the second section deals with the bully, who after he is suspended is bullied himself. The book ends with some possibilities for rich future discussion with young readers. Why did the other children, many of whom had been bullied themselves, not assist the bully when he was beaten up? What does this book tell us about forgiveness and compassion? How would you respond if someone threw your lunch in the trash? … and so on.

I’m excited to see what all this book can do out there in the world, in homes and classrooms. And speaking of classrooms, I’m very interested indeed to see how this next year of hybrid/remote/classroom education settles out. Here’s hoping we achieve a new (and healthy, happy) normal sometime soon!

As a final note, consider this book’s title: When the Bullying Stops. What does happen afterward? As Dunlap suggests, it may just be an opening for personal growth, change, and classroom rapport. I’m sure you all might have some suggestions, as well!

IN SUMMARY:

In a world where bullying is tragically common, an accessible picture book like When the Bullying Stopped by Bernice L. Dunlap might just make a big difference in a child’s life. I also highly recommend checking out Dunlap’s other books for children.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Stella the Rejected Star wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about Marc McCormack’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


SONY DSC

ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.