Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bystander by James Preller

Besides reading, I love to listen to funny storytellers. Some of my favorite storytellers include Bill Cosby and Kevin Kling. Kevin Kling told a story on public radio recently that I would like to share with you. [share selected audio clip]

The Kling brothers go searching for Jeffrey because he tattles on them and it's time for payback, but when the Kling brothers find him, do they know what to do next?

While in their grasp Jeffrey says, "No, no, don't take me into the woods."

Then the Kling brothers respond, "We are taking you into the woods!"

Jeffrey says, "No, no, don't tie me to the picnic table."

The Kling brothers reply, "We are tying you to a picnic table!"

Jeffrey says, "No, no, don't pour peaches on my head."

The Kling brothers call out, "Somebody go back to camp and get some peaches!"

Jeffrey doesn't realize that what he is doing is instructing the Kling brothers step- by-step on how to terrorize him.

(Why was Jeffrey so specific? What can you infer, or conclude, about Jeffrey? Was he a former bully, bystander or victim?)

Unlike the Kling brothers, the bully in the book, Bystander, by James Preller, definitely knows what he's doing. Griffen tells the new kids he draws into his dark world to call him Griff. What takes most of his unsuspecting new recruits weeks to discover is that Griff is a liar, bully, and a thief. We are also introduced to Eric Hayes, the new kid in town. Eric has just moved with his mom and younger brother from Ohio to Bellport, Long Island, and doesn't know anyone. He definitely doesn't know whom to avoid.

The book begins with Eric shooting buckets outside, alone, on the middle school cement basketball courts when he notices a boy running away from the school all covered in red glop. To Eric there is something strange about the whole scene. The boy looks like he is running for his life, but there isn't anyone chasing him. From a distance the red glop looks like red paint. Or, is it blood?

Then the narrator tells us that the boy headed in Eric's direction:

"You okay?" asked Eric.

The boy came to a halt and stared at Eric. He looked distrustful, a dog that had been hit by too many rolled-up newspapers.

Eric stepped forward, gestured to the boy's shirt. "Is that blood?"

There was a flash of something else there, just a fleeting something in the boy's eyes: hatred. Hot, dark hatred.

"No, no.," the boy said.

Then Eric smelled it, a familiar whiff, and he knew. Ketchup. The boy was covered with ketchup.

Then, in the very next chapter Griff introduces himself to Eric. Griff takes care of Eric, the new kid. Eric immediately gains buddies, recognition and a place with Griff's boys at the lunch table. Friendship with Griff has its benefits, but unknown to Eric, Griff is responsible for what happened to ketchup boy. What will Eric do if Griff comes calling for Eric to join in on the fun? What will Eric do if Griff finds ketchup boy alone, and offers to give a live demonstration to show Eric how it's done?

Does Eric have the courage to do the right thing or will he join in the fun with Griff? Or, will Eric fall in with a long line of bystanders instead and just watch?

The following words by Martin Luther King Jr. haunt the chapters that follow:

"In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

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