Author(s): Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Illustrator(s): Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Age Range(s): Early years, Lower primary, Upper primary


… The cover’s bold, red background emphasizes a brown bull’s surly expression—he’s seeing red emotionally as surely as readers see it behind him. But then, the prologue illustration shows him looking downright cowed as a large, gray bull shouts, “GO AWAY!” Clearly pained, the brown bull roundly rejects a group of animals that invites him to play. Wordplay makes his cruel remarks pack a wallop: “CHICKEN!” he shouts at a hen; “SLOW POKE!” at a turtle; “PIG!” at, well, a pig. A bee and skunk feel his ire, too. Then, a goat evoking the bravery of the Billy Goats Gruff facing down the troll retorts, “BULLY!” “Bully?” the brown bull asks in a picture employing an effective direct gaze at readers. On the next spread, the bull is depicted multiple times, sent into a physical tailspin representing his emotional upheaval. He apologizes on the antepenultimate page, and then, over just two spreads, he invites the animals to play, and they accept … (from Kirkus Reviews)

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Date: 2013

Caldecott Honor Book, 2013
American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, 2014
Boston Globe Best Books of 2013
Bank Street College of Education Best Books of 2014
CBC/NCSS Notable Book, 2014
CCBC Choices Best Books of 2014
Capitol Choices Noteworthy Book for Children, 2014

Number of pages: 32

Illustration notes:

The sparse illustrations have been created simply using a thick black outline around flat colours. They are placed against a textured cream background with a wooden fence running across each double spread. The fence is symbolic and shows an opening for the characters to walk through at the end of the narrative sequence.

The bull grows through the first half of the picturebook and becomes so big only his hooves fit on the page. The wordless spread which shows him deflating is very effective.

The typology is also visually important in significance for the words increase in size as bully gets meaner and meaner. Then they deflate with him, and his final, tiny sorry is hugely meaningful.

Peritextual notes:

Front cover: The deep red front cover can be used for discussion around what red represents and why the Laura Vaccaro Seeger used it for this purpose.
The brown bull is standing on the title, his high position on the cover is of relevance and children can talk about how the bull might be feeling, provoked further by his expression.
The letter ‘Y’ can be covered to help children see the word play in ‘Bully’

The blurb ‘Bully doesn’t have a kind word for any of his friends. What will it take for a little bull to realize he’s being a big bully?’ (on back cover or dust jacket flaps) can be read to the children as a further prompt for predication or confirmation of predictions from the front cover.

The prologue illustration (a big grey bull being mean to the brown bull) should be shown and read aloud. This can be revisited at the end of the story to prompt talk around why bullies bully.

The dedication should be shared, it is to Laura VS’s nieces. Why did she dedicate the book to her nieces might be a good question to ask.

Language Notes:

Use of nouns as insults provides an opportunity for talking about constructive and destructive language.

Online resources:

Roaring Brook Press resources
Laura Vaccaro Seeger talking about her book
Picturebooks in ELT Blog post
PEPELT resources
MA report which relates an action research project around Bully in the primary English classroom in Portugal

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