A heartfelt, albeit heavy-handed, treatise against bullying is delivered in plodding rhyming verse.
Co-authored by Lynch (who, as Sue Sylvester on television’s Glee, is a notorious bully), the rhyming text suffers under the weight of its earnest message and slim characterization. Why is Marlene so mean? Readers don’t ever find out—apart from an oblique reference to anger that motivates her random acts of cruelty. Other children cower in her wake, while adults who might step in are pointedly absent from words and pictures. Finally, Big Freddy, “his voice loud and steady,” intervenes to stop all the mean. He does so by simply asking Marlene why she is so mean and by pointing out to the others that she is not so scary after all. The children are emboldened by his actions, and they stand up to her too, refusing to flinch when she continues her tirade of bullying. In an odd narrative twist, she ends up sneezing out her meanness and deciding to reform, though the text eagerly points out that she doesn’t become an angel overnight. Tusa’s comical, lively, watercolor illustrations save the day in what would otherwise be a fairly forgettable addition to the anti-bullying bandwagon.
With its heart on its sleeve, this offering falls short of other, better picture books that come out swinging against bullying. (Picture book. 4-6)