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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
Elsie’s story could be anyone’s story, really. A girl from an impoverished family, a girl who’s repeating the fourth grade. Wearing worn, dirty clothes and being older than the other students, Elsie definitely stood out. And, she was a target for bullying. This was the 1960s and people didn’t think much about bullying. (Perhaps they still don’t.) But fourth-grade students can be pretty mean when they take it to heart that someone is different than they are. And Elsie was definitely different. It has often been said that “Poverty is a cruel master and it is difficult to overcome.” For an impoverished child in a class full of privileged children, it can be more than just cruel. And, though bullying in the schoolyard is difficult at best, the attitude of the parents doesn’t help: “They just don’t know any better” is the standard, biased excuse.
Michael Murphy’s children’s story, Elsie’s Story: This Story Has No Hero, is a poignant, sociological tale of childhood in the 1960s and the intensely negative power of schoolyard bullying. Many of us probably had an Elsie in our class, perhaps even in the 1960s. Told in first person narrative, Elsie’s Story follows one boy’s progression through elementary school and middle school, each year with Elsie in his class, each year with the chants of bullies going on around him. The narrator never claims to be a hero, but at one point in middle school, he suggests that enough is enough. And, sadly, that only makes him a target for bullying. Combined with interesting line drawings, this story is a heart-wrenching narrative that zeroes in on the damaging effects of childhood bullying. A powerful story to hopefully help put an end to childhood bullying, which ultimately leads to adult bullying or worse.