Characteristically impeccable design distinguishes Seeger’s latest, even as pacing risks its overall success.
The cover’s bold, red background emphasizes a brown bull’s surly expression—he’s seeing red emotionally as surely as readers see it behind him. But then, the frontispiece shows him looking downright cowed as a large, gray bull shouts, “GO AWAY!” Clearly pained, the brown bull roundly rejects a group of animals that invites him to play. Wordplay makes his cruel remarks pack a wallop: “CHICKEN!” he shouts at a hen; “SLOW POKE!” at a turtle; “PIG!” at, well, a pig. A bee and skunk feel his ire, too. Then, a goat evoking the bravery of the Billy Goats Gruff facing down the troll retorts, “BULLY!” “Bully?” the brown bull asks in a picture employing an effective direct gaze at readers. On the next spread, the bull is depicted multiple times, sent into a physical tailspin representing his emotional upheaval. He apologizes on the antepenultimate page, and then, over just two spreads, he invites the animals to play, and they accept. This resolution arrives a bit too quickly, and questions linger about the gray bull, bee, skunk and the heroic goat.
Perhaps, then, this book is best a conversation starter about bullying rather than a fully developed story or commentary on this pressing social issue. (Picture book. 5-8)