Rose loves make-your-own pizzas and pink nail polish and inventing silly games at recess. She's beside herself with excitement over planning her sleepover birthday party. Until the two most popular girls in school announce they're not coming. At least not unless Rose uninvites her best friend Stacey.
If you have a little girl or have ever been one, prepare for pangs of recognition. This is the dicey realm of girl bullying - subtle, manipulative and hard for the grownups to detect. And it's brought to life in My
Worst Best Sleepover Party, a new chapter book aimed at kids grade 2 and up and written by Toronto sisters Anna Morgan and Rachael Turkienicz.
It's a world where exclusion, ultimatums, bribery and jokes at someone else's expense are the weapons of choice. For the protagonist Rose, who's caught in the crossfire, the agony and guilt and confusion are all-consuming. Torn over what to do, she hides under her blankets, crying "I DON'T GET THIS!"
While bullying has become an increasingly frontline topic in the media and among parents, educators and others who work with kids, most of the literature and resources focus on either the victims or the perpetrators. Turkienicz and Morgan, drawing on their personal memories and experiences as mothers, wanted to address the gap.
"There didn't seem to be much for the kids who are caught in the middle who are the vast majority. And yet those are the ones with the most complex decisions to make," says Turkienicz, a professor in York University's Faculty of Education who has five kids.
As a discussion point for children, parents and teachers, My
Worst Best Sleepover Party touches on all the key issues in a way that will keep kids (including boys) and grownups interested. There's the allure of the popular girls, who are so funny and crazy when they're not being mean. Rose's tortured attempts to guess what might be provoking them and fix it. The astonishing way that well-intentioned adults can make everything worse. And the cold, hard fact that while Rose is neither aggressor nor victim, her role as innocent bystander is in many ways the most difficult and important.
The 120-page paperback doesn't sugar-coat the issue. When Rose decides to do what she knows is right, things get worse before they get better. And there's no happily-ever-after ending where life goes back to exactly the way it was.
But what the authors manage to do is illuminate a pathway out of the situation that Rose can navigate - as long as she has the support of her mom and some of the friends and adults around her. Rose will probably be the hero to most readers. Her mom is mine.
And the sleepover? In Rose's words, it was the birthday party "where I only turned one year older but I felt like I really grew up." Even though it came with a tinge of sadness.
Worst Best Sleepover Party ($7.95) will be available in major bookstores this month.