Tag Archives: bullying

My Life as a Smashed Burrito With Extra Hot Sauce

Author: Bill Myers

The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

Wally knew his summer was going downhill as soon as his dad started throwing around phrases like “great outdoors” and “think manly thoughts.” He just didn’t know how bad it was going to get until he stumbled onto the bus to “Camp Whacko” (as it was fondly nicknamed) and into the bad graces of notorious bully Gary the Gorilla. Somehow (yes, his ego tends to be his undoing), his fellow campers convince Wally to stand up to Gary in an all-out camp war–pranks in the middle of the night, traps on the trail, that sort of thing. Only, all of that doesn’t go very well with all this teaching on wisdom that Wally’s been hearing from his camp leader, and at some point he’s going to have to make a defining choice.

I discovered Bill Myers’ Wally McDoogle books back when I was still in, like, middle school. They were fabulous then, and they continue to be a joy even today. They manage to be distinctively Christian middle-grade fiction, with solid teaching (in this volume, focusing on making wise choices, choosing good friends, and even loving your enemy), while still being relatable and impossibly funny. Wally is just so utterly clumsy and has such an over-the-top sarcastic sense of humor (and yes, everything’s told from a first-person perspective, which in this story definitely works), that you can’t help but laugh. The collection of circumstances as a whole is so improbable as to be basically implausible. And yet, the attitudes Wally has, the bad choices he makes, and the hard decisions he’s faced with, are completely realistic–they’re the sort of challenges that real people are faced with on a everyday basis. Which (besides the gut-wrenching laughter) is what makes this story so great; it equips kids to face real choices and helps them think through things so that they are more ready when they’re faced with this stuff in real life. Definitely recommended.


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Next Gen (2018 Movie)

Netflix with Baozou Manhua, Alibaba Pictures, & Tangent Animation

My rating: 2.5 of 5

Ever since her father left when she was just a kid, Mai’s life has been a rage-filled, lonely mess. Her mom doesn’t really pay attention to her, the kids at school bully her, she doesn’t have any true friends. It’s only a matter of time until all that anger finds a target; for Mai it becomes the robots that dominate her mother’s attention and give the other kids at school the power to hurt her. And when she stumbles upon a robot that’s different–on that has true artificial intelligence and that wants to be her friend–she suddenly has the power to do something about all the rage and hurt that’s built up inside herself. But Mai isn’t the only one with an agenda, and perhaps nearly losing everything is enough to make her realize that lashing out isn’t the answer.

I have kind of mixed feelings about Next Gen. I mean, it’s a good movie. The CG animation is solid and visually catchy; technically, it’s well done. But I find myself incapable of not comparing it with Big Hero 6, and it keeps coming up short. There’s the whole robot friend thing for starters, and 7723 (the robot here) is enough like Baymax that I can’t help but make comparisons, and yet it is not nearly so cute or so prone to push the protagonist towards good choices. There’s actually a lot of violence here, and a lot of it is caused by Mai and 7723 . . . and it’s not all against obvious “bad guys” either. Mai also reminds me somewhat of Hiro–more than even just the angsty teenager vibe, there are just aspects of their personalities that are pretty similar. Only, Hiro is an example of someone like that who has good friends and family supporting him and helping him make good choices, while Mai is a clear picture of someone completely out of control with no one bothering to notice enough to help her or stop her. On a completely tangential note, I feel like the big overarching storyline (the bad guy trying to destroy humanity part) was 1) too over the top to be credible and 2) not sufficiently related to the basic story (Mai’s life and struggles), although they certainly do interact over the course of the story. So yeah, on the whole, while Next Gen is a solid enough movie, it just doesn’t strike me right, partly because I just don’t enjoy stories that are so fueled by rage and hurt. On the other hand, Bookriot presents a differing perspective on this movie in their excellent post (which I recommend reading), pointing out that this movie provides much-needed discussion for kids on appropriate versus inappropriate ways to handle anger, bullying, and the like. Which, yes, I can see their point. Thus the mixed feelings. I probably won’t watch Next Gen again myself, but I wouldn’t say “don’t watch it,” either.

Based on 7723 by Wang Nima/Written & Directed by Kevin R. Adams & Joe Ksander/Music by Samuel Jones & Alexis Marsh/Starring John Krasinski, Charlyne Yi, Jason Sudeikis, Michael Peña, David Cross, & Constance Wu

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First Test

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small Quartet, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

A decade after the kingdom of Tortall decided to accept girls to train as knights instead of just boys, ten-year-old Kel becomes the first girl to actually apply. Inspired by tales of the Lioness’s valor and already skilled through her training in the Yamani court, Kel is determined to succeed and become a knight of Tortall. But she is shocked when Lord Wyldon, the training master, puts an extra requirement on her that the boys don’t have to fulfill: her first year is a probationary period, and only if she satisfies him at the end of it will she be allowed to stay on as a knight-in-training. Hurt and frustration are barely the beginning of what Kel feels, but her time with the Yamanis has also trained her to hide her emotions and press on through unrealistic expectations, deep-seated prejudice, bullying, and social rejection until she proves herself.

First Test is such a great reminder of just why I love Tamora Pierce’s books so much. It’s this fabulous mix of fantasy and slice-of-life, encompassing bits of school story (the majority of the tale), culture and history, exciting battles, amusing relationships with various animals, and growing friendships among many other things. Plus it’s an excellent look into changing perspectives on what women are capable of and that whole dynamic. Kel is a powerhouse, incredible character–the perfect individual for this particular story. Her story is so similar to and yet so different from Alanna’s in the Song of the Lioness Quartet that it’s quite interesting to compare the two. And knowing that Kel has Alanna’s secret backing is fabulous. But seriously, I love Kel’s stubbornness and determination, the way she works so hard to get where she wants to be. And the way that she’s quiet and feminine–which is partly stubbornness in the face of opposition itself–but is also ready to get into fistfights when necessary also contributes to a richness of character. Plus her friendships with all the various animals and her  intentionality in standing up for those who are weaker and afraid. She’s just a very well-realized and fascinating character, and I love that about her. I also really love her opinionated and chatty mentor Neal as well–also a richly developed and complex character who is quite likeable. It’s been entirely too long since I’ve read these books, and I’m greatly anticipating re-reading the rest of this quartet. I would highly recommend both First Test and the rest of the quartet to . . . well, basically anybody who likes a solid fantasy. As far as appropriate age recommendations, this quartet (like the Song of the Lioness books) is difficult to place, but I would say that First Test at least is appropriate for middle-grade and up (possibly even older elementary). Just be warned that the later books in the quartet grow up as Kel grows up, so there may be some more mature content there.


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The Astounding Broccoli Boy

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

My rating: 4 of 5

Rory Rooney is all about being ready for everything, but the truth is there are some things you just can’t prepare for. Like being bullied by the biggest kid in your class. Or being accused of trying to poison him after he steals your food and has an allergic reaction. Or falling in a river and turning green. Broccoli green. But surprisingly enough, being green is something Rory can deal with. The doctors are baffled, but he’s convinced that his verdancy can only have one diagnosis: super.

I swear, where has this author been my whole life?! I just recently discovered Boyce’s writing when I read Cosmic, and The Astounding Broccoli Boy is another homerun of an absurd middle-grade adventure story. The author does a great job of creating relatable but interesting characters. The situations in which the characters find themselves are absolutely ridiculous–totally the realm of tall tales–yet with enough Truth (the kind that impacts people, not necessarily the kind that is scientifically provable) that the story is still grounded and real to the reader. The author uses the ridiculous, the humorous, and the adventurous events the characters encounter to express something practical and immediate, and I love that. Plus, the story is just fun, full of hijinks and misunderstandings and fun references. I would definitely recommend The Astounding Broccoli Boy for middle-grade readers in particular, but also just in general; it’s good fun.

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Three Quarters Dead

Author: Richard Peckthree quarters dead

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Life is officially over for Kerry when she is forced to transfer into a new school in the middle of high-school–of course everyone’s already made their friends, formed their cliques, so no one’s interested in hanging out with the new girls. At least, that’s what she thought, until she got an invitation to join the three coolest girls in the school: Natalie, Makenzie, and their queen Tanya. Never mind what they did or asked Kerry to do, of course she’d try to keep up. The three girls became her world. Until they smashed their car into a tree and left her behind . . . . Or did they?

Three Quarters Dead is Richard Peck’s own unique take on the now-popular paranormal genre, and it’s certainly eerie enough. It falls more along the lines of Are You in the House Alone than of his usual ghost stories, and I think that actually works in its favor. Just know, if you’re looking for his hilarious historical fiction, this isn’t the book for you. Kerry’s story is dark–really a ghost story even when everyone is alive. It’s actually pretty terrifying how her entire world shrinks to just Tanya’s group and her time with them. There’s practically no mention of family, hobbies, school–just lunches with the group, hanging on every word that drops from Tanya’s beautiful lips. But the really scary thing is how close Kerry’s situation is to the peer pressure, the necessity of fitting in, that faces kids all over today and the way kids can find themselves drawn so deeply into the situation. And then after the car crash, the way Peck handled the “ghosts” and Kerry’s reactions to them was even more eerie. Brrr. I didn’t love Three Quarters Dead–it’s not really the sort of book you’re supposed to love–but it did creep me out and make me think.

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