Thursday, August 19, 2010

Middle Grade Bullies: Just Say No

Reading thuRsday

I picked up a newly published middle grade novel after the agent who represented it said the book was the one that really got him excited about children's literature.

I was eager to dive into the story and see what made this book special. And much like diving into water that's shallower than it appears, I ran smack into a child of destiny being tormented by bullies among both students and faculty in an oppressive institution.

Eddie~S at Wikimedia
It seems as though most of the middle grade books I've read during the last few years begin with bullies. I'm beginning to think I missed the memo saying that such things are required. What's worse is that the bullies generally have nothing to do with the main story after the child of destiny transcends the oppressive institution (i.e., we never see the bullies again after they've done their scene-setting work at the beginning.)*

I know school isn't rainbows and unicorns, and kids can be mean to each other, but this is becoming a tired trope. So I'm calling for an end to bullies in middle grade novels. (Unless the novel is actually about bullies at some level and those characters are in the book to do more than simply set the starting scene.)

I know you middle grade authors are creative, so let's step up and find something other than the overdeveloped brute who takes senseless pleasure in pounding your protagonists. How about a rival? An enemy? Another kid so focused on what he or she wants that they run over your protagonist and don't even notice the bump?

At a minimum, please don't use a bully simply because almost everyone else has.

* At least C.S. Lewis had the decency to let his protagonists go back to their dreary new school at the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader and give their tormentors a proper comeuppance.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

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