________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 2 . . . . September 12, 2008

cover How to Outplay a Bully.

Nancy Wilcox Richards. Illustrations by David Sourwine.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic, 2008.
102 pp., pbk., $5.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99738-6.

Subject Headings:
Bullying-Juvenile fiction.
Hockey stories.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Jonine Bergen.

** /4


I paused. "But it's not going to be easy to get Berk to stop calling me names. He's going to call me Tony Baloney forever."

"He's such a bully," agreed Aaron.

"And Berk's not that great a player. He could barely skate from one end of the rink to the other without coughing or taking a break," I complained.

Aaron pulled on his mittens and looked right at me. "He's got asthma, I think. Sometimes I see him use a puffer."

"Oh," I said. Now it all made sense. The coughing and wheezing. But that didn't change anything. He was still mean. He was still a bully.


Tony is a typical grade three boy; he loves to play with his buddies, his favourite subject in school is gym, and he is "pumped" about playing hockey. Unfortunately, he has a problem that is also typical for many children — he has to deal with a bully.

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      Author Nancy Wilcox Richards' successful use of first person narrative allows the reader to jump right into Tony's experiences as he becomes part of the Bayfield Blazers. Tony always wanted to play hockey, and this year his mother has agreed to let him play! Things are also different because his adult neighbour, Bobby, has told his mother where to find cheap hockey equipment and has taught Tony some hockey skills. Not even having to deal with Berk, the team bully, can dampen Tony's positive attitude and enthusiasm for the game.

      The plot of How to Outplay a Bully occurs in two similar settings, the classroom and the ice rink. In the classroom, the action revolves around teams of students playing a game called "Stump the Expert." Though the students are competitive during the game, there is no name calling or bullying evident. The quiet discipline of their teacher, Ms. MacArthur, is very apparent in the classroom. The atmosphere at the ice rink is the polar opposite to the classroom. Coach is notable only by his absence in the locker room. Also, though all the children play for the same team, the Bayfield Blazers, they do not support or stand up for Tony, or each other, against Berk. Tony's experience as the new guy on the team consists of being belittled, having his property vandalized, being excluded from the team cheer, and being intimidated by Berk and his goon-friend, Drew. Tony handles all this with aplomb beyond his years.

      Nancy Wilcox Richards' writing style is appropriate for her audience, and her hockey knowledge is admirable. Her tidbits of facts are at an eight-year-old's interest level and are well chosen. She also weaves some interesting hockey trivia throughout the plot, thereby enhancing the moral of her story. For example, Tony's neighbour, Bobby, turns out to be Bob MacMillan who won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship in the NHL. MacMillian reminds the players about the importance of being a good team player and being the best you can be. With MacMillanís example, Tony leads the team in the last team cheer of the season, which is the first time all the players are included.

      Tony is a great example with his ability to keep his cool and not react to Berk. Tonyís mantra, "You can't let him know he's getting to you," is a positive reminder. However, the implicit message that he should have to put up with the bullying is concerning to me as an educator. I found the lack of support for Tony by his coach or teammates frustrating. Though the coach gives the team the standard, "There's no 'I' in team" speech, he does nothing to address the verbal and physical intimidation occurring on the team. Tony's friends sympathize with him, but they do little to help either. They even participate in the team cheer that Tony is banned from throughout the three months he is a Bayfield Blazer.

      The lesson taught in the book is summarized best by Tony: "But I also got to see that there was so much more to winning than having the most points. It was about having the right attitude. It was about working together as a team." Unfortunately, there are two additional unspoken lessons in How to Outplay a Bully: "Don't go to adults with your problems" and "You can't do anything to stop a bully — so put up with the abuse until the bully decides to change."

      How to Outplay a Bully is good enough to make the team, but not strong enough to make first string.


Jonine Bergen is a library technician in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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