This week’s short story comes from the same anthology as "I’m Not James," wherein authors were asked to use the phrase “I fooled you” in a story. Johanna Hurwitz, who edited the anthology, is the author of this story, which illustrates a classic case of classroom bullying.
Mimi can’t stand it that her mother has given away many of her clothes to Twice Blessed. Even though the thrift store raises money for cancer research, which Mimi knows is a good cause, she can’t get past the fact that Sandy Kolman, a less wealthy girl in her class, comes to school all the time wearing her old clothes. Mimi’s grandmother bought those clothes before she had Alzheimer’s and seeing them on someone else is almost too painful to bear. So Mimi decides to get back at Sandy for making her feel so terrible, by inviting her to a fake party on a date that does not exist.
In this story, Hurwitz demonstrates a keen understanding of the motivations of fifth grade bullies. Sandy is the object of Mimi’s hatred solely because of Mimi’s jealousy. And the punishment for Sandy’s so-called crime has absolutely nothing to do with the crime itself; it’s just a cruel means of making Sandy look stupid. I could apply this same description to 90% of the bullying activity that went on in my own childhood classrooms, as well as in schools and libraries where I have worked since. Hurwitz taps right into the heart of bullying and draws it out for the reader, managing to encourage sympathy for both Sandy and Mimi. It’s easy to preach about bullying, but much more difficult to accurately represent both sides of it. Hurwitz manages to strike that balance quite effectively.
This story also manages to resolve an issue of bullying without adult involvement. I often think that kids who are bullied are afraid to report to adults and should be encouraged to do so, but in this case, the lack of adult involvement seems like a wise choice. The late elementary school years are the first time in a child’s life when he or she is called upon to make important decisions on his or her own. This story looks at the implications of that, and allows its main character to falter a bit before finally doing the right thing. I think it can be truly empowering for kids to see their fictional counterparts decide to do good simply because it is good, and not because an adult has issued a ruling.
Like "I’m Not James," "April Thirty-First" can be used as a tool for bibliotherapy - this time, for kids struggling with bullying as either the bully or the victim. It would be a great story for a school librarian or teacher to share with girls in classes where cliques are an issue - and I will actually be filing it away as a possibility in case I do a No Name Calling Week program at my library this year.
I borrowed I Fooled You! from my local public library.