Despite good intentions, Polacco’s current take on this particular hot topic falls short.
First and foremost, it seems unlikely that the message will ever reach its intended audience. Extensive text and challenging vocabulary make it clear that although the story is told in Polacco’s typical picture-book format, it’s really aimed at older children. Lyla and her friends (and enemies) appear to be in middle school, but the simplistic plot won’t keep kids that age engaged. New at school, Lyla first finds a good friend in fellow newcomer Jamie. When her cheerleading talents are revealed, Lyla is adopted by the in crowd. Savvy readers won’t be surprised when she struggles to balance her friendships or by her eventual decision to stand up for Jamie. That decision leads to an accusation of cheating and an all-out campaign of cyberbullying. While Polacco gets quite a few things just right—the three mean girls’ body language perfectly expresses their snotty attitude, and Lyla’s pleasure in being part of the popular group is entirely believable—overall, the plot is predictable. Ending with a question for readers emphasizes the bibliotherapeutic goal and further weakens the potential impact.
Unlike Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker (1998)—an affecting, personal look at the pain cruel kids can inflict on those they perceive as different—this contemporary effort won’t move readers to better understand themselves or others. (Picture book. 8-12)