Griffin the Dragon deals with a school bully in the latest children’s book about him.
Mask’s (Griffin the Dragon and Healthy Eating Habits for Kids, 2014, etc.) fourth illustrated book about Griffin has an unabashed anti-bullying message. Set in an imaginary future United States, when humans go to school with aliens and talking animals, it involves Griffin and his friends: a hyena named Jackson and two humans, 8-year-old Cattails, a boy, and 10-year-old Alexandra. As summer vacation begins, the friends disagree about whether to visit a “jump house” or “bounce house,” terms that are neither explained nor pictured but may refer to an inflatable structure resembling the Bouncy Castles that many parents rent for children’s parties. The friends bicker, banter and roughhouse, all in good fun. Suddenly, a large alienlike bully joins them. The friends fail to defuse the bully’s aggressive moves with words, actions, threats and an offer of friendship. Finally, when the bully takes a swing at Griffin, the dragon burps flames that singe the bully’s shoes. The group celebrates when the bully leaves, but Griffin’s dad has seen the incident and grounds his child for three weeks. When the punishment ends, the friends discover that Griffin has befriended the bully and taught him to read. This resolution exemplifies the simplistic themes of the book—that bullies never win and that they “need love”—but offers no practical tips on how children should interact with bullies if, for example, they lack the ability or desire to teach them a skill. The text and the art both work hard to be attractive, with a child-friendly tone and cartoon-style drawings. But the text has cultural references and vocabulary words likely to challenge its young readers, including “surreal,” “comedic” and “postured.” And some illustrations are confusing or don’t match the text—the eyes of Griffin’s father are said to be blue until he gets angry, but they are clearly purple. The book also has many spelling and punctuation errors, such as “responed” for responded, “knells” for kneels, and “winn” for win.” All of this will limit the appeal of the book even for the most ardent supporters of its message of nonviolence, such as school anti-bullying programs.
Careless editing undercuts the authority and usefulness of a children’s book on bullying.