At first glance, it might seem that there’s nothing particularly new or fresh about a picture book on bullying. Bullying is in the news daily, and books helping kids understand and develop healthy strategies to deal with the issue are abundant.
What is rarer, though, is a book about bullying written from the viewpoint of a spectator — a child who sees bullying taking place, who doesn’t want to participate in it, but who is scared to speak out against it.
This is why, even given the wealth of books already available, we at EBYR were especially taken with Jan De Kinder’s Red.
Red begins when a nameless protagonist makes an innocent observation about a classmate’s red cheeks . . .
. . . and unwittingly gives a schoolyard bully the ammunition he needs to torment the blushing boy.
As the situation spirals from teasing to outright meanness and even violence, the girl wishes she could bring an end the bullying:
This isn’t funny anymore.
I want it to stop. I want Paul to stop right now.
I actually think Tommy’s pretty nice.
But she feels powerless to control the situation and is afraid of becoming a victim herself:
I’m scared of Paul.
His tongue is as sharp as a knife.
And his fist is as hard as a brick.
He’s twice as strong as me.
There’s no way I can stand up to him
on my own.
After the abuse turns physical, the teacher finally notices what’s going on, steps in, and asks, “Did anyone see what happened?”
The girl doesn’t want to speak out. She doesn’t want to paint a target on her own back. And yet . . .
To her surprise and relief, more hands go up:
Hands in the air.
Everyone saw what happened.
We all talk at once.
I can breathe again.
I’m not all on my own.
In that moment, the bully’s power is broken, and, in the aftermath, the girl finds not only her voice but a new friend as well.
Learn more about Red on our website.