An update of the (originally) anti-Nazi poem of protest, reframed as an anti-bullying message.
An optimistic finish robs this litany—modeled on the anonymous and often misquoted lines beginning “First they came for the communists…”—of its profound cautionary power, but the point remains, and the tally of afflicted groups is particularly cogent for younger audiences. Following “First they went after Jamal. / But I’m not black— / so I didn’t stand up for him,” the unnamed narrator shies away from the sight of peers either looking sad or being harassed or menaced by a racially diverse quartet of sneering fellow students. Victims include a “geek,” a gay boy, a fat kid, a girl wearing hand-me-downs, an immigrant, a Muslim child, a child using forearm crutches, and Alexis (“she used to be Alex”). In her diaphanous, yellow-tinged illustrations, Hudon sets each scene in school or on a playground and draws stiffly posed figures with oversized heads and eyes to emphasize through facial expressions the emotional impact of bullying. When at last “they” come for the unseen speaker, all of the previous victims line up shoulder to shoulder: “We all stood together.” Falcone follows this rather self-serving turn with a closing note quoting the original (with “communists” replaced by the less-controversial “socialists”) and directing a nod to Martin Niemöller, the minister and peace worker who made it famous.
It doesn’t stick the landing, but it’s nevertheless a sobering insight with plenty of history on its side. (Picture book. 7-12)