It’s national anti-bullying week. I have wanted to bring these two books to your attention for some time – they are brilliantly written, fantastic stories, which shout to be read. They both feature a group of bullies – one more prevalent in the story than the other, but what shines over and above the bullies is the discovery of true friendship.
Storm Horse by Nick Garlick
A page turner of a book, Storm Horse is about 12 year old Flip, an orphaned boy, who is taken in by his aunt and uncle, whom he barely knows, on an island off Holland. At first he spends all his time helping out on their farm, but when a terrible storm engulfs the island, Flip shows immense bravery in rescuing a horse from drowning in the sea. He is allowed to keep the horse, provided that he shows he can care for it himself – but the horse is more troublesome than the storm itself.
Under constant menace from a group of local bullies, Flip and his cousin, as well as a ghostly mute girl, must battle against the bullies and the weather to triumph.
The story isn’t set in a specific time, but the atmosphere of the island is of a time past, in which the island’s lifeboat is launched into the sea by horses, music is played on a record player, and life is set at a slower pace. The wonderful community spirit that pervades the island is magical to read about – with farmers volunteering their services for lifeboat work, and everyone knowing and helping each other. It is very much a depiction of a different time and a different place (particularly for modern urban readers.)
There are many strands running through this timeless story – from the way in which Flip finally overcomes the bullies, to the friendships that develop between himself and his cousin and the strange mute girl. Garlick also explores Flip’s friendship with the horse. Storm, which allows Flip to develop self-confidence, self-awareness, and to find solace in this particular friendship as a way of overcoming his grief. It is common in children’s literature for a child’s relationship with an animal to provide a special type of comfort. The power of nature is also a force within the story.
Moreover, the story deals with grief in many ways – from Flip’s grief for his parents to the mute girl’s grief, and the grief of the islanders for the loss of life and horses in a storm, as well as grief for the way of life that might be lost. It was interesting too to see a book deal with adults who are being bullied – and how they overcome this adversity. For 10+ years. Buy it here from Waterstones
The Butterfly Shell by Maureen White
There is potential bullying of adults in The Butterfly Shell too – but the main bullying happens at school. Maureen White excels with her depictions of female friendships in the early years of secondary school – she is both perceptive and astute as she describes the delicate hierarchies and shifting friendships at school that can be affected by home life, appearance, and self-confidence.
Moreover, the overarching hook as to why the main character, Marie, feels so hit upon is ingenious. Called ‘other Marie’ by the bullies at school, simply because she is not the Marie who is in the popular girls’ group, the damage goes far beyond school, as it is revealed that her parents named her after her older sister, who sadly died as a baby and was called Marie. Of course the bullies at school have no way of knowing this, but the damage is done.
Told in the first person narrative, the reader feels deeply for Marie, even when she acts wrongly, and messes up. In fact, she starts to self-harm, which is portrayed in the most realistic and sympathetic way I have yet encountered in a book for this age group – beginning with the picking of a scab.
The text is simple and minimal, as is the story – but its effect is long-lasting. It shows the consequences of teen girls’ actions, and the incredibly complex relationship between parents and teenagers – the latter wanting to please, and yet also protect their parents, at the same time as still wanting to be ‘parented’ by them. As in Storm Horse, there is a therapeutic relationship with an animal (a dog) too. However, the cleverness of the writing is what penetrates the reader – the plays on words, superstitions, and the understanding of the psychology of teen girls.
Maureen White also incorporates modern technology into her piece about bullying – from Stella’s phone trick, to the intimidating text messages that reach school girls out of school hours and cause untold misery.
The book ends with a great moral conclusion – that it’s good to talk, that self-confidence stops bullies, and that self-harming is never okay. For 12+years. Buy it here from Waterstones.
With thanks to Chicken House and O’Brien publishers for sending review copies.