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THE BRAVEST HEARTS by Jayne Sbarboro


Empowering Our Friends

by Jayne Sbarboro ; illustrated by Wendy Leach

ISBN: 978-0-9992420-4-9
Publisher: Montgomery Publishing Company

A group of classmates supports a friend dealing with a bully in this companion children’s book to Sbarboro and Leach’s previous title, The Truest Heart (2018).

In this illustrated tale, a teacher named Miss Work hands out papers with drawings of hearts and announces a class assignment: “I want you to write a strength in this heart that you’ve seen in someone else.” The students—a diverse group representing multiple ethnicities—consider the topic. The assignment helps Jericka and Ze, two brown-skinned classmates, think about how much they appreciate their friendship since the former stopped being mean. Although the assignment resonates, it doesn’t give the students a strategy for responding when Kaisley bullies Jericka. Surprisingly, a math lesson provides the answer they need: It doesn’t take much to tip a scale. When Kaisley next bullies Jericka, some classmates interrupt with warm words about the latter’s strengths until their kindness surrounds her like a shield. That compassion allows Jericka to see that Kaisley may be a kindred spirit who just needs some encouraging words herself. Sbarboro’s deft depictions of Miss Work’s lessons and the students’ responses to them provide concrete, constructive ideas for creating positive friendships. The way the two classroom subjects work together to bring the lesson home shows the author’s keen insight into school dynamics. But because so many students share the spotlight, young readers may have trouble identifying the main character, particularly if they haven’t read the first book. Leach’s cartoon images, particularly her depiction of Kaisley, are incredibly effective. At the beginning, Kaisley is outlined like a child but filled with gray. It’s only when Jericka begins to see her as a person and offers her words of kindness that Kaisley’s features are defined. The sympathetic words, portrayed as swirls of color, perfectly capture the emotion of what it feels like to receive praise.

A well-written, beautifully illustrated strategy for lifting up others in the face of bullying.