Patricia Polacco has a new picturebook out. If you are expecting a sweet-hearted book like Thunder Cake or Renchko's Eggs or Bun Bun Button, be forewarned, Polacco has again gone to the nub of an issue and faced it square on. This is a picturebook for middle schoolers not elementary school children. The characters are in sixth grade and facing all the issues that children do at those ages trying to find where they fit in the social pecking order. We've all been there in one way or another, but not in the way our children are today.
In Bully two new students find and support each other until a clique of girls interferes and bullies them in that snide way in-crowd girls do. Nothing new there you say. That's been going on forever. It happened in Anne of Green Gables and Little Women.
But in Lyla and Jamie's school we have sealed state tests kept under lock and key. We have students with cell phones and laptops and Facebook pages. When a state test is stolen, Lyla is maligned in the world of cyberspace, attacked by an entire school on Facebook.
In Bully Jamie comes to Lyla's resue with some quick detective work and computer savvy, but the discovery of the culprit leaves one with a bad taste in one's mouth. How can one troubled girl bear the blame for something that was aided and abetted by the hundreds of students who gleefully joined in the cyberbullying and by parents not supervising their children's access to Facebook and cell-phones.
And that fact makes this book troubling. What exactly will young readers learn from this tale? If they didn't know about Facebook and posting photos to bully someone, now they have an example. And they learn that it really can't be controlled. The school bans cell phones and laptops, but does that end it? Polacco knows better:
"Nothing is going to change," Jack said. "Everybody will just go underground. What about when school is not in session? No one can stop kids from using their cell phones and laptops"
Cyberbullying is a major issue facing us as parents and teachers today. Sixth graders are 12 and 13 years old. Their sense of morality is not fully mature. But their facility with social media is changing the way they see and interact with the world. This issue is not going to go away. It is time to take action even if that means that unlimited access to cell phones and Facebook are off limits to our kids.
Here are some excellent resources on cyberbullying:
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