Pink Shirt Day, I thought I'd review Nancy Wilcox Richard's How to Outplay a Bull, a children's novel about a boy named Tony who's being bullied by a member of his own hockey teammate.
I'm always somewhat skeptical of books like this. Even as a young child I was very aware of when after school specials and books were too preachy and heavy handed with their depiction of playground villains, whether they be bullies or peer pressurers or what have you.
But while there are some things Richards got wrong (more on that in just a sec), I think she got the bully and the bullied right. Plus the hockey team and its reference to the Lady Byng memorial trophy was a nice (Canadian) touch. Tony's a very likeable character, and though he has at least one revenge fantasy, remains a likeable character throughout the book. The bully, Berk, is presented less favorably (of course) and while there's some acknowledgement of one of the issues in Berk's own life that might make him act the way he does, Richards is careful not to be overly sympathetic and acknowledges his actions are wrong. It's a children's book so there's an unsurprisingly happy ending, but it's not, at least, presented as an easy answer.
As for those things she got wrong? First off, there are a couple of times when Berk and Tony's hockey team finds themselves alone in the dressing room when the coach steps out. As the father of a son in hockey at the same age as these boys, I can easily say how unlikely a scenario that is. There are usually almost as many adults in the room as kids.
The other involved a very poor trivia question asked to Tony's class by his teacher. Stating that it's from the nature category, she asks: What 3 things won't you find in Newfoundland? How about tigers? Llamas? Camels? Porcupines? Prairie Dogs? Grizzlies? Cougars? Cacti? Tiger lilies? Nope. The correct answer is skunks, snakes, and poison ivy. Oh well. I grew up there, but what do I know? (I do know that we can't make the snake claim anymore.)
I also know that despite those 2 flaws, it's still a fine book and a perfect conversation starter with kids about bullying.