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Tina Levine
Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top's Surprise
Tina Levine, author

Children/Young Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

MOM'S CHOICE AWARDS HONORING EXCELLENCE, GOLD LEVEL 2020, PURPLE DRAGONFLY HONORABLE MENTION FOR EXCELLENCE 2020 Meet Annie (aka Carrot Top), a girl bullied at school, in real-time, as we watch her dealing with a bully and bystanders. What is it about this girl that makes her so resilient? Tina Levine designed this fictional chapter book to include humor and a mystery in both school and neighborhood settings. Overall, readers will find themselves laughing, tearing up, and excited to read each new chapter about a student being bullied. Throughout this tightly woven story, one learns about Annie's unique strength to overcome life's traumas. Don't miss the turnaround day where transformations begin to ensue for each of the relatable characters. Whom do you think the heroes will be at the end of this book? Readers are finding poignant messages for all ages in "Better Than A Bully..." They are amazed by illustrations that bring the characters to life! Parents and professionals reading with children can use provided questions for each chapter as a springboard for discussions on this prevalent topic, as well as a list of resources offered at the end of the book.
A reluctant bully begins to question her choices after gaining empathy for her victim in the Levines’ heartwarming middle grade debut. Tara has many friends in her fourth grade class, but plump, redheaded Annie isn’t one of them; instead, Tara and her friends nickname her “Carrot Top” and bully her. Much of the taunting was started by Tara’s friend, Ace, but Tara and the rest of her friends regularly join in. After Annie helps Ace out of a dangerous situation, Tara learns more about Annie’s struggles as the child of a disabled, impoverished single mother. Tara sees how unfair bullying is and realizes her own power to make it stop.

The unusual point of view of a tween caught between bully and bullied will invite readers to inhabit Tara’s internal conflict of wanting to be nicer to Annie while fearing being mocked by others for showing kindness to a designated pariah. Annie’s continued positive attitude can feel a little unrealistic, but it drives home the point that victims don’t do anything to deserve being bullied. Glimpses of Ace’s own troubled home life go some way to explaining his own reasons for harassing others. Middle grade readers will grow in understanding alongside Tara as she becomes a force for kindness among her peers.

Tina Levine combines her own experiences of being bullied with her expertise as a teacher who sees students on all sides of the bullying dynamic, creating deeper understanding and relatability for young readers. The protagonists can be lovable and funny as well as serious as they cope with difficult situations that many children will find personally relevant, and the moral lessons don’t feel heavy-handed. Discussion questions at the end will prompt dialogue and deeper explorations of the theme. Ned Levine’s evocative monochrome spot illustrations add depth to the story and its characters. The profound messages of acceptance and empathy shared through realistic situations, with a solid dose of humor sprinkled throughout, will win readers over.

Takeaway: Young readers feeling pressured to bully others will relate to this story of a onetime bully who steps up to teach kindness to her peers.

Great for fans of Patti Kelley Criswell’s Stand Up For Yourself & Your Friends: Dealing with Bullies and Bossiness and Finding a Better Way, Tonya Duncan Ellis’s Sophie Washington: The Snitch.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A


Better Than a Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise is a great read for upper elementary and middle school students! The main character, Annie, models resilience, grace, and humor in the face of hurtful behavior from classmates. Her story shows readers that they don't have to change who they are in order to be liked and valued by others. Rather, it is by being her authentic self that Annie shines most brightly. This is a heartwarming story of kindness given and kindness received.

Signe Whitson, C-SSWS      
Chief Operating Officer        
The LSCI Institute


Better Than a Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise is a fascinating and entertaining story shedding a unique light on the bully, bystanders, and victims for upper elementary or middle school children. Don’t miss the insightful opportunity to use the jumpstart questions provided for each chapter with your child, grandchild or student, or as a service provider.

Andrew Pleener, psychiatrist, MD    
CEO of Regional Psychiatry 
Windermere, Florida