Tag Archives: Bullying

Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk

Wolf HollowStories about bullies are legion these days. Once the media decide to concentrate on a given problem, everyone in the world has to write a children’s book about it, certain that just one more story will save a generation of children from harm. Some cautionary tales, however, rise to the level of literature. Lauren Wolk’s story takes a different tack from everything else I’ve read on the topic. It is set during the Second World War in rural Pennsylvania, and the bully is not that tough boy in the classroom; it’s a girl.

Annabelle and her two younger brothers walk through the woods to school every day, and they’ve never run across anyone except for the gentle World War I veteran, Toby. Toby has chosen to live apart from society, and although he hunts for his own food, Annabelle’s mother sometimes sends some of their meals to him, as well. One day, the new girl, Betty, met Annabelle in the woods, demanding that she give her something valuable, and threatening to hurt her youngest brother if she told anyone about it. Annabelle is a girl of fine character, and she tries to stand up to Betty and not allow herself to be intimidated, but her decision has dire consequences—for herself, her family, and for Toby.

Ms. Wolk crafts a tale that is much more complex and frightening than the usual bully story. As readers, we cheer Annabelle’s strength, because we’ve all been taught that the correct response to bullies is to refuse to give in to their demands and refuse to be silent. But Betty is a truly evil person; she is not just misunderstood. She does not suddenly see the error of her ways and repent. She is a bully. Furthermore, she is not at all squeamish about lying to save herself, and she is shrewd enough about human nature to know that a man who lives in the woods and carries guns looks much guiltier than a young, disingenuous girl.

This is an incredibly compelling novel, and it will appeal to both girls and boys from 10-14, perhaps, although your readers should be mature enough to understand some of the unspoken accusations that might come from police officers wondering what happened between a man and a girl in the forest. Look for discussions about bullying in your children’s lives today. They will be much more nuanced after this book!

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Colin Fischer, by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz

Colin FischerLast weekend, David and I traveled to South Carolina to see our two moms on Mother’s Day weekend. We were also happy to see other family members, including my sister and her crew. My fourteen-year-old nephew has Asperger’s Syndrome, and although he is fascinated by meteorology and amazingly gifted in music, reading has never held much interest for him. This visit, though, John was eager to share a book with me, and my sister told me that it was the first full-length book he had ever read all the way through. Go, Dog, Go! he had done, but never a complete novel. Could there possibly be a greater commendation for a book than that? I had to read it immediately.

Colin is a teenaged boy with Asperger’s leading a fairly stereotypical Aspie life: socially isolated, good at math, keeping his food separated on his plate. He is sometimes bullied, but since he doesn’t give the bullies the satisfaction of fear and panic, he doesn’t get hurt badly. In the beginning of freshman year, a bully named Wayne dunks Colin’s head in the toilet, but later in the novel, Colin overreacts to being touched and breaks another bully’s nose. So he is not helpless, just clueless. He carries around a cheat sheet of various facial expressions, labeled with the appropriate emotion being expressed, and he writes down all of his observations in his well-worn notebook, which goes with him everywhere. His friend, Melissa, has— shall we say— matured over the summer, the evidence of which Colin points out to her in graphic terms that would earn most boys a slap. Melissa understands him, though, and leaves poor Colin to figure out why his feelings toward her have taken a very confusing turn.

One ordinary lunchtime, while one of the popular girls is passing out birthday cake in the school cafeteria, a shot rings out, and after all of the screaming and scrambling for cover settles down, Colin sees a gun covered with frosting lying on the floor. Wayne, the school bully, is immediately suspended, but Colin is convinced that Wayne is not the shooter. Emulating his hero, Sherlock Holmes, Colin uses his powers of observation and deduction to try to find the real villain before it is too late for Wayne.

Written in a combination of third-person narrative, journal entries, and footnotes, this novel reveals the inner workings of an Aspie mind with compassion and straight-up realism. There is some strong language, and an understanding of sex, though nothing happens on the page. Colin has great parents, and he loves them, but he sees them with the clarity with which one adult would see another, unrelated adult. His brother, however, is probably the biggest bully in Colin’s life, despite his parents’ efforts, and it is difficult to imagine the pain of living with someone so aggressively hateful every day. Colin deals with all of this rationally, and is sincere in trying to follow all of the rules he has learned and to adjust his communication style in order to interact with the neurotypical humans around him. His desire for justice and truth allow Colin to defend even the individuals who have given him nothing but cruelty, and that purity of purpose leads to a happier outcome than most of us would expect.

Obviously, this is a terrific book for any tween or teen who needs a hero on the spectrum, but many other kids are also facing each day as another encounter with a bully. Colin Fischer will give them courage. On the other hand, aggressive kids could learn compassion in these pages, and everybody loves a good mystery. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I read the first 125 pages of this book in my nephew’s copy, and then read the remainder in a library copy. Opinions expressed are solely my own, perhaps influenced by my John’s enthusiasm, but do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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