The Buckeye Children's Book Award 1991 winner for grades 3-5 was There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar. Famous for stories such as Holes and Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Sachar is well known for telling stories that are funny, thoughtful, and unexpectedly tug at your heartstrings, and this book is no exception. Don't let the title fool you -- this book is full of heart.
Out story begins with our main character, Bradley Chalkers, who is known to be extremely disliked by his classmates and teachers. He constantly lies, refuses to admit wrong, and is rather antisocial. He is very imaginative, however, as he pretends his toy animals talk to him and creates imaginary stories for them. He has no friends (and finds safety in hating everyone and acts much like a bully), until a new student named Jeff appears in his class, and suddenly Bradley finds himself trying to make friends with him. Unfortunately, Bradley's insecurity and reputation makes things difficult, and Jeff soon finds other friends to spend his time with.
Both boys end up seeing Carla, the school counselor, every week to talk about various things. Carla's approach seems atypical at first, but she is eventually able to pull Bradley out of himself and open up a little. When Bradley chooses to talk with Carla about monsters from space (something other kids have been calling him) it opens up a lovely conversational metaphor:
"Can you see inside monsters?" he asked. "Can you see the 'good'?"
"That's all I see."
"Well, how does a monster stop being a monster?" he asked. "I mean, if everyone sees only a monster, and they keep treating him like a monster, how does he stop being a monster?"
"It isn't easy," Carla said. "I think, first, he has to realize for himself that he isn't a monster...Until he knows he isn't a monster, how is anybody else supposed to know?" (pg. 90)
The saddest part is when Bradley tries so hard to be good, to prove he isn't a monster, only to have Jeff and other boys in his class act as bullies towards him, ultimately making others think that Bradley is the one who caused all the problems.
But Carla helps him through it all, and slowly others begin to notice the change in Bradley. He still struggles to believe in himself, but Jeff becomes his friend again, he gets an A and a gold star on his book report, and he gets invited to a birthday party. Everything becomes a mess when Carla is fired when a group of parents complain about her job, believing kids don't need a counselor and instead just need discipline, and Bradley believes everything will become bad again. Thankfully, Bradley is able to realize (eventually, and with some last help from Carla) that good things can continue to happen to Bradley, so long as he tries his best.
This is a wonderful book for kids to realize and understand that people sometimes act out for reasons we don't see or know, and that everyone has their own problems to overcome. It's a wonderful lesson of being kind and treating others with importance. Carla's teachings of needing to try despite possible failure, and to believe in oneself, are universal. It doesn't hurt that the book has its hilarious moments (including a boy in the girls' bathroom) to keep kids laughing in between the poignant moments.
Besides, with a title like that, who wouldn't pick up this book?
I was so happy to find this on the list of winners of the Buckeye Children's Book Award, and I can imagine the wonderful conversations kids reading this book probably had with their teachers, peers, and parents. I have to admit I cried a little while reading this book, having come in contact with many students like Bradley in my few years of teaching, and seeing how Carla helped Bradley grow as a person, you can't help but be touched. It just proves how important and meaningful relationships are, and how looking for the good inside a person can make all the difference.
What are you currently reading, Jill? Do you have a favorite Sachar book?
Please join us in our reading challenge! We welcome anyone at any time! :)