cover image Bully


Patricia Polacco. Putnam, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-399-25704-9

Polacco’s middle-school variation on Mean Girls is an overwrought but compelling literary hybrid: it reads like a novella with pictures. Sixth-grader Lyla and her brother, Jack, are new kids at a Bay Area school with a cutthroat social scene. Lyla is accepted into the popular girls’ clique, but grapples with the fact that the very same kids are bullying Jack and a boy named Jamie on Facebook, as well as in the hallways and lunchroom. That would be plenty to digest, but Polacco raises the stakes to a lurid level with a stolen achievement test and a tragic back story for the clique’s leader, turning potentially empathetic readers into rubberneckers. While the story’s emphasis on cyber-bullying is important and timely, Polacco’s message is delivered with a heavy hand. Visually, though, it’s striking. As always, Polacco (The Art of Miss Chew) is an exuberantly expansive stylist, and a master of emotional immediacy: her pencil and marker spreads explode with color and expressiveness. Few artists are better equipped to capture the hothouse that is early adolescent school life, complete with its all-important fashion parade. Ages 7–up. (Sept.)