In Summers’ debut picture book, a bully’s classmates devise a plan to change his actions forever.
“Bullies are a bad lot,” says this book’s narrator. “Albert Pendergast was one of the worst.” He cuts off a girl’s hair, breaks a boy’s thumb when he loses at a game of marbles, and causes a huge accident when he plays chicken with traffic. No one knows what to do with him; his teachers are exasperated, and the school’s headmaster is so overwhelmed that he’s on stress leave. The narrator, a classmate who’s fed up with Albert’s terrorizing the school, comes up with a plan. He enlists the help of everyone the bully has ever hurt—including both children and adults—and they’re sure that this time, “Albert Pendergast is really going to get it.” It initially seems that the children are plotting revenge, but it soon becomes clear that the “peculiar parcel” they have planned may instead help Albert see how his actions affect other people. The book’s subject matter is certainly current, and the fact that the kids try to reach out to their bully rather than get back at him is a sweet touch. That said, Summers’ moral lesson does get a little heavy-handed. The straightforward prose gets right to the point—Albert is a nasty kid, and it’s clear how his intimidation tactics have put him in control of the whole school. Still, there’s an overreliance on narrative summary, as Summers tends to show the aftermath of dangerous acts instead of in-the-moment action. Some scenes work better than others, such as the opening “Snip!” as Albert shears off Helen Switchhammer’s braid, but the students’ shock when he crushes Billy Tomlinson’s thumb is oddly subdued. More dialogue might have helped, but Summers keeps that to a minimum, even when cries of fear and exchanges between terrified kids might have made the story feel more immediate.
A sweet story for bullied kids but one that’s far too text-heavy.