In MaryAnn Butterfield’s middle-grade book, 12-year old Michael Kim struggles to cope with a bullying classmate.
Fellow student Chuck continually bullies Michael, derisively calling him “Chung King.” The latter gives Michael’s mom a chuckle: the Kims are Korean, not Chinese. “I was laughing because he’s teasing you with a Chinese name,” she explains to Michael after he laments Chuck’s behavior. “Chung King is an old brand name of canned Chinese food.”
As Michael endures Chuck’s rudeness at school and on the bus, his best pal, Jason, is there to support him. When it causes a larger stir one day, the hall monitor, not fully grasping the situation, threatens to have all the boys present, including Michael, written up.
Meanwhile, Jason and Michael are excited that their fathers are going to help them build a fort—and only they will decide who can enter. But Michael continues to fret about Chuck’s bullying. When the situation reaches a crisis, school officials, the boys, and their parents have a meeting, and finally both boys see each other in a new light.
At book’s end, Butterfield encourages readers to form anti-bullying organizations, just as her fictional characters create a Code of Conduct for the school. She includes a sample of such a code, along with instructions on fort building and questions for young readers about each.
The author is a talented wordsmith who understands children. Her young characters’ dialogue feels natural and real, and Michael’s thoughts and reticence to report the bullying are equally authentic. His mother’s occasional gentle teasing is lovingly wrought.
A few minor problems: Michael’s family has a plug-in phone— odd in an era replete with cell phones. The accompanying drawings are unpolished, detracting from the story’s professionalism. Additionally, the narrative lacks a powerful, thoughtful girl among Michael’s close companions.
Still, young readers will readily identify with the story’s credible characters and will surely sympathize with Michael’s daily struggles with Chuck.
Also available in hardcover and paperback.