Bully on the Bus by Kathryn Apel (University of Queensland Press, 2014) $14.95 RRP Paperback BFormat
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
Verse novels by Australian authors have tended to be for older readers, so it is refreshing to see this book for readers six and up. As the title implies, the theme is bullying. Seven-year-old Leroy is taunted on the country school bus by a high schooler, DJ, whose bullying ways include pushing, pulling, pinching, tripping and kicking him. She also calls him names such as ‘Picker-Licker Leroy’, ‘Booger-Boy’ and ‘Cry-Baby.’ No-one defends Leroy, and his only friend on the bus is his fifth grader sister, Ruby. The driver, who says, ‘It’s a big responsibility getting all you kids home safe’ is seemingly unaware of the bullying.
Ruby suggests that Leroy tells his teacher what is happening, but he says, ‘What will the bully/do to me/if I dob?’ It is only after DJ has stolen cupcakes from Leroy’s lunch-box and star stickers he’s received as a prize for being student of the week, that Ruby finally reveals Leroy’s problems at the dinner table. After driving their children to school, Leroy’s Mum and Dad speak about the bullying to his teacher, Miss Wilson who suggests ways of dealing with bullies. In a verse titled ‘How to Bust a Bully’ six strategies are given, including using a ‘secret weapon.’ Ultimately, however, the teacher suggests that Leroy himself sorts out the problem.
Through reading a fairytale and role-playing with Ruby, Leroy finally confronts his bully who, embarrassed, backs down. Within days DJ is conciliatory, even telling Leroy he is ‘pretty smart’ and ‘then moves over/on the seat/ so there’s a space beside her.’
Bully on the Bus is a simple, fast-paced and well-crafted story dealing with an issue which, unfortunately, is all too common these days. Used by a teacher as a classroom reader, it is sure to raise helpful discussion among students as how to deal with the problem of bullying. The bottom line for any victim, the book suggests, is it is essential for the victim to tell an adult.
Unfortunately, the way in which Leroy is forced to confront his bully – successfully – did not ring true to this reader. What seven-year-old child is able to take on and defeat a nasty teenager with the power of words, albeit words that are spoken powerfully? If I was Leroy’s parent, I would want myself to confront the bully, preferably in front of her school principal.
Notwithstanding this difference of opinion with the book’s resolution, I would highly recommend Bully on the Bus which, in manuscript form, won the published authors’ section of the 2012 CYA Conference manuscript competition.
Note: Teachers’ notes (aligned with the Australian Curriculum) are available at www.uqp.com.au