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.


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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: “Stella the Rejected Star” by Marc McCormack

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Stella wasn’t like all the other stars in the skies above Bethlehem. She was a four-pointed star in a five-pointed world, and the other stars teased her because of it. Then one day, the stars heard an important event was about to happen-and God would choose one star to play a crucial role.

Could that star be Stella? Not if the other stars get their way, and they will do anything to stop her!

Stella’s story shows us that often the ones considered different in the world are the ones who shine the brightest through their faith, hope, and love.

Stella the Rejected Star was written by Marc McCormack when he was eleven. Almost forty years later, Stella’s story has turned out to be his son Brady’s story. Brady, who is blind and nonverbal with autism, navigates his way through the world as both a star who has sometimes been rejected, and one of the brightest-shining ones.

Set against the first Nativity, Stella the Rejected Star is more than a Christmas story and is for everyone, especially those young readers with four points in a five-pointed world.

Stella’s story is the perfect one to teach children the importance of empathy and acceptance. If your child loves Christmas and stars, even mischievous ones, they will love Stella the Rejected Star!

Some of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to autism-related charities.

REVIEW:

Once upon a time ….

The first time I read Stella the Rejected Star, I found myself humming “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” aloud to myself. There are definitely some parallels between the stories of Rudolph and Stella––bullying by one’s peers, physical difference as a subject to be grappled with, a sort of “inspecting of the troops” or competition to guide an important process, and a message involving the triumph of the innocent over the cruel––and I think this parallel provides a unique and interesting starting point for discussions between parents (or grandparents, or caregivers) and young children.

How are these stories similar? It certainly doesn’t hurt that both Rudolph and Stella literally as well as metaphorically shine brighter than their peers, or that when Stella and Rudolph are both brought to the attention of God and Santa respectively, they take the high road and refrain from punishing their peers, even though they have acquired the power to do so.

(A quick aside: I still feel uncomfortable about having put Santa into the same sentence as God, particularly since I grew up in a household where the secularization of Christmas was a regular discussion. Whatever your or my personal stances might be on this particular depiction of the divine, I think it’s pretty safe to assume we’re all aware that the Nativity story occupies a sacred and beloved space in many households around the world, and I definitely do not want to imply I do not take the faiths of my friends, family, and neighbors seriously. I do think it’s important to specify that this book resonates specifically with mainstream Christianity as experienced in America, to prevent confusion.)

How are these stories different? Well, we’ve established that God is not Santa (and vice versa). And while Rudolph’s mission is one of spreading good cheer, Stella’s is to lead the shepherds and wise men to the newborn Jesus. McCormack also distinguishes his story with an added twist: in Stella the Rejected Star, faithfulness magnifies a star’s light, while the bully stars discover that their unkindness leads to a loss of this same light. Not only does this provide an opportunity to talk about bad behavior and bullying with kids, but it also introduces the concept of faithfulness and the relationship between faithfulness and behavior.

I find it incredible that an 11-year-old wrote this story, but that’s the background: McCormick wrote it as a boy and published it in honor of his son Brady, who has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That Brady was himself was a preemie and only surviving twin underscores the importance of this story, both to McCormick, and to those who learn from his picture book. Beyond the value of teaching children to empathize with and be kind to those who stand out for their differences, there is another moral to this story. Hardship, McCormick hints, provides a backdrop against which both heartbreaking and incredibly beautiful stories can play out. All of this in 32 pages, half of them Seth A. Thompson’s colorful and evocative illustrations. I can’t imagine a better way for families of faith to finish out 2020 than with a story of hope, faith, and maintaining joy through hard times.

You can find another detailed review of Stella the Rejected Star on the Readers’ Favorite website, reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford. It is encouraging to me personally that other highly-rated reviewers have begun to pick up on McCormack’s wonderful story.

IN SUMMARY:

Stella the Rejected Star is a sweet and wholesome picture book for those looking to re-invest the holiday season with the magic of love and kindness present in the Nativity story. Marc McCormack’s story and Seth A. Thompson’s illustrations combine to create what will quickly become a modern classic for English-speaking Christian families.

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?

There are several more children’s books in my TBR pile for me to get through before the end of 2020, with my next review scheduled for the afternoon of January 1st. I can’t imagine a better way to start off a new year than with a good book!

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

* Courtesy of Amazon book listing.


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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: “Integrity Based Policing” by Dan Barry (Memoir)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Experience firsthand policing in America’s Playground. This book contains stories that are based on my thirty-year career with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Despite all my “peaks and valleys,” I never lost my love of policing, or passion for the people I served. While many of my experiences are amusing, they also are enlightening for people considering a career in law enforcement. My most important lesson learned is that decisions must be based on ethical soundness, as opposed to other motivations.

The challenges facing American police officers have never been greater. Besides the dangers from criminals, they also need to navigate through administrations that are often more concerned about tomorrow’s headline, than providing true leadership. As opposed to considering ethical soundness, agencies are often most concerned with only the politically popular path.

My prayer is for police agencies to work in partnership with the citizens they serve in making our neighborhoods a safer place. For this to be achieved “Integrity-Based Policing” must become the new standard for all agencies to adopt.

REVIEW:

This is the year, and this is the book, my friends.

Dan spent thirty years in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and in those years, he saw many things: the rise and fall of Community-Oriented Policing (COP), the development and erosion of trust within the department’s command structure, and the unfolding (as well as conclusion, in some cases) of careers as those he worked with rose through the ranks and came into their own. He worked in a number of assignments, from serving as a patrol officer to commanding the Organized Crime, Criminal Intelligence, SWAT, and Patrol bureaus. Basically … he’s seen it all, and he’s probably worked almost every possible position within the LVMPD in order to write a memoir that is also, in many ways, a call to action to re-orient the direction of policing in the United States.

Have I mentioned that this book is timely yet?

The elephant in the room here has to be addressed: There are presently numerous calls to “defund the police” as a result of widespread protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks attempting to understand what exactly this means, and while there are likely a range of opinions all being voiced under the umbrella term, the general idea seems to be not so much “get rid of all police, all police are bad” but rather “let’s reroute some of the funding currently going toward policing into community-based programs that aim to eliminate the root causes of crime.” And while I’m sure some would say that’s a very gentle interpretation, I do think it’s one that in many ways is relevant to the work Dan Barry did within the LVMPD, the changes he witnessed, and where he hopes to see policing go in the future.

Barry emphasizes ethics time and time again throughout Integrity Based Policing, drawing a line under the fact that much of the leadership he saw was warped by appointees jockeying for perks and power within the police hierarchy. From the first page to the last page of this memoir, Barry argues in favor of Community-Oriented Policing (COP), which I probably can’t do justice to in summary but which seems fairly well defined by its name. Throughout his service, he privileged what he called “face time” in the community, with officers stationed within the communities they served so that they could better serve their needs before a crisis situation could develop. He describes several examples of COP in action during his time commanding various bureaus, and the erosion of public trust that took place every time a unit was taken from his command and required to move away from the COP mentality. And trust is a big deal to Barry, to the point where it is actually his central mantra and service motto:

  • Truth
  • Respect
  • Understanding
  • Stability
  • Transparency

To Barry, all five of these elements must be present in order for a police unit to be effective, and these five elements do seem to be exactly what many of today’s protesters most want (particularly transparency and respect, I think). Whatever else we think of the BLM movement (I don’t want to get hung up on that for the purposes of this review), I am grateful that conversations around trust and community policing are back in the public dialogue. And I’m even more grateful that we have Dan Barry’s thoughtful, experience-based memoir as well. I think that readers of all demographics and political perspectives will find something useful and compelling here, whether it’s Barry’s dedicated pursuit of eliminating corruption among the city commissioners, his years promoting policing as something more than just once-and-done interactions with the public, or his growing exhaustion after years–decades–of pushing back against all of those who used the police bureaucracy to promote their own personal agendas. His calm and fact-based writing keeps readers invested, and more importantly, keeps readers’ trust.

As in policing, so too in writing.

IN SUMMARY:

Dan Barry stuck with his vision for ethical policing through thirty years of difficult policing, and continues to do so in his memoir, Integrity-Based Policing. He provides exactly the kind of experience-based evidence that point toward effective means of reforming police departments across the country and winning back public trust–and it centers on being part of the community, of being in the community, and being of the community. His emphasis on preventative measures and face time are a refreshing change from the charged dialogue currently dominating the news; change can be made, should be made, and here are some additional, practical ways to bring it into being.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Integrity Based Policing wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Patrick McLean’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I’m going to completely pivot directions and take a dive into some health-related writings next time!

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

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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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 Sense of Urgency” by Patrick McLean (Fiction)

A SENSE OF URGENCY by Patrick McLean

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Baseball franchise moves can break your heart.

Mark Weber, President & CEO of the St. Louis Cardinals, thought he landed his dream job. Little did he know it would turn into a nightmare shortly after management changes at parent company Rheinhold Brewing Company.

Christina Rheinhold, newly installed President & CEO of the company that bears her name, is anxious to keep the small brewery afloat. What better way than to shed non-beer assets? Especially if you don’t even care about the team, purchased by her father when In-Bev acquired Anheuser-Busch and they also were in an off-loading situation. Christina [is] well aware of the 125 year plus tradition of the team in St. Louis, but it [is] very tempting to sell the team to out of town parties for top dollar.

Can Mark, with the help of natural and even supernatural support, save the team for the city and their fans?

REVIEW:

Baseball! So many different aspects of my life seem to be telling me I should brush up on my (nearly nonexistent) knowledge of the sport. I spent my middle and high school years abroad in a country where baseball doesn’t exist, which probably explains why I know so little about the sport–including its history and why it is of such significant importance to Americans today. There are some similarities across sports: baseball and cricket, for example, are both considered “gentlemens’ sports” in that competition coexists with camaraderie and umpires are as important as the players, their calls are of the utmost importance, and sassing an umpire is as gross a misdemeanor as exists. In many other ways, though, baseball and the culture that has formed around it is utterly unique. In A Sense of Urgency, Patrick McLean captures much of the detail and texture of daily life with baseball and infuses his book with the spirit of the same.

Like the sport itself, A Sense of Urgency is a dialogue-driven read. Thumb your way through the book and you’re liable to land on a series of pages where the majority of the text printed on that page is being spoken aloud by one character or another. McLean is somewhat unusual in this–in writing, I mean. My personal addiction when writing is to scenic description (sometimes I think it’s all I know how to write) and that was fairly common among the writers I became acquainted with back in my college years. There are also plenty of authors who are addicted to what you might call the Infodump, or in some genres worldbuilding without much action. In moderation both worldbuilding and scenic description can be useful, but as most of you can probably attest, something needs to happen in a book in order to keep the momentum going and readers engaged. Too much summary description of action as it unfolds, though, can come off as distant. (“He ran, then he stopped. He ate a sandwich. Then he moved to Alaska to learn how to muster sled dogs.”) It’s almost as if some writers (me included) can completely forget about the power of dialogue–but not Patrick McLean.

One of the benefits of a dialogue-driven book is that it doesn’t come off as teasing or deliberately disingenuous to withhold certain information until the critical moments in which those details are important; a third person omnipresent narrator, however, knows everything the character knows and can therefore be something of a tease in books that depend on the timing of those details for plot momentum and reader interest. (If an author knows that it was Lady Scarlett in the dining room with the candlestick but asks me to consider the butler and Colonel Mustard as primary suspects, I start to wonder what else the narrator is hiding from me. And then I start skimming ahead. Because sometimes I’m a very impatient reader! Whoops.) With dialogue, though, an author is fully justified in only conveying what the characters themselves know or are willing to share in the moment, since their voices are the only (or at least the dominant) voices on the page. This comes in very handy in A Sense of Urgency.

Dialogue also conveys personality and regionality in a way like no other text can. Speech patterns, dialect, and idiom tell people who we are when we speak, more than even our clothes and our resumés, since we can put on costumes and brag as much as we like, but how we speak and how we speak to each other will always reveal who we are underneath the affectations and behavioral habits we acquire.

When it comes to plot, there’s not much I can tell you about A Sense of Urgency that’s not already in the description without spoiling key details, but as the omnipresent narrator of this review I’m going to tease you with hints at what you’ll discover when you crack open a copy for yourself. McLean’s command of the details is exquisite. (Who wears loafers without socks??! Who are these people? My mother would be mortified if she were caught out of doors without socks in her sneakers. I, meanwhile, wear sandals until the snow is thicker than the soles of my sandals. Then I switch to boots. I do not loaf. You’ll have to read on in order to discover why this is important in the book.) The little things aren’t always little in this book. But that could also be a hint of misdirection; a Colonel Mustard moment of mine, if you will. (See? Don’t you hate it when a narrator tortures you? McLean doesn’t do this thanks to his dialogue-driven approach.) The Cardinals are more than just a team. Security is called to escort people out … and there are several moments where things get “a little dicey,” to steal an expression from the book. There’s plenty of drama to go around, but I won’t embarrass myself by trying to replicate McLean’s command of how baseball works and will simply state instead that this is a book that is focused on the game and what the game makes possible in the lives of those people who are involved in it.

If you like baseball, or even if you know nothing about baseball but enjoy seeing just desserts dished out by characters who are knowledgable and passionate, this is a book to add to your reading list.

IN SUMMARY:

While the world keeps reminding me that Americans play baseball and not cricket, A Sense of Urgency pairs the sport with storytelling that is bound to appeal to fans and newcomers alike. And yes, Patrick McLean really does convey … a sense of urgency … in this compelling slice of life narrative.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find A Sense of Urgency  wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Patrick McLean’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

The year 2020 being what it is, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to Integrity Based Policing by Dan Barry, which is an insider’s perspective based on Barry’s thirty or so years in law enforcement for the City of Las Vegas. Personal opinions aside, I think it’s an important moment to be seeking out stories from all perspectives on this topic in order to better understand what’s going on in the world (specifically America) today.

 

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

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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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 Realistic Optimist – A Collection of Essays by Ellie Bushweller

457827 Ellie Bushweller cover

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

This book was written by a person who has a full and active life as a wife, mother, grandmother, nurse, counselor and freelance writer. She has been a keen observer of many aspects of human interest.

It is a collection of essays that are concerned with a wide variety of topics. The essays are insightful, informative, humorous and hopeful.

This book should appeal to all those who are intrigued by all the joys and concerns that impact people’s daily lives.

REVIEW:

There are many essays out there in the world, and books like The Realistic Optimist are the best possible kind of persuasion I need to read more of them. Like many readers, my main exposure to the form came in college–first, as an undergraduate learning the basic definitions and structure, and then as a graduate student experimenting with genre expectations and strengthening my sentences. There were essays on supersonic planes, on oranges, on eclipses, on eating unprocessed foods, on shopping every store in the Mall of America, on sports, on hunting, and the list goes on. What there wasn’t, for the most part, was a collection of essays from a single author that captured my interest and felt like something more than a couple of really good works surrounded by filler.

Until now.

For most of a decade, Ellie Bushweller essayed for her local South Burlington’s The Other Paper. Her columns chronicled the daily lives of not just the people she met and the scenes she witnessed, but also the comings and goings of squirrels. Of seasons. Of one’s fellow bench-mates in the park. Of the tools and technologies that pass through our lives. Of time itself. Each of the roughly one hundred essays in this collection were written with conviction and heart, and while the occasional line indicates an essay’s origin in a newspaper column, the collection does not suffer from the change in delivery method.

It is fitting, I think, that The Other Paper would cover this collection of essays which it helped bring into the world with warmth and affection. There’s simply no reading of this book … and no encountering of Bushweller herself … without feeling touched by sunshine. One can easily see why and how she developed a loyal following among the newspaper subscribers of South Burlington.

Which isn’t to say that Bushweller hasn’t walked through some valleys and shadows and maybe even done dark alleys. After a childhood in Brooklyn, she grew into an adulthood as a nurse working to care for children and adults in a dilapidated city housing project. Still, despite life’s hardships witnessed and experienced daily, she clearly never closed her heart to the possibility of doing some good simply by being … a realistic optimist.

IN SUMMARY:

Come for the squirrel stories but stay for the bittersweet authenticity of a life lived with gusto and conviction, gentleness and generosity. The Realistic Optimist is rich with spirit and a balm in tough times. It is also a love letter to a decade of life in a specific time and place–South Burlington–that deserves witness.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find The Realistic Optimist wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Ellie Bushweller’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I’ll be going back to one of my wheelhouses, which is to say novel-length works of memoir and nonfiction. (Although frankly, I can fall in love with any genre if the writing is strong.) I’m working on a memoir of combat in Vietnam: God, Me and the Blackhorse by Barry Beaven. I tend to be deeply affected by stories of war, so I’m taking it slow and checking in and out of some other, lighter works … but I think Beaven’s will be the next book to make it into my reviews. You can catch those thoughts on Beaven’s book in two weeks here on Self Publishing Advisor.

 

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

* Courtesy of Amazon book listing.


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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.