Plot: Levine's plot is charming, entertaining, and quickly paced. It will likely grab the attention of many young readers as they follow the students of Wilson Day through their week. The various relationship dynamics that develop feel real and grounded.
Prose/Style: Levine's well-wrought prose is delightful and appropriate for the young age of the protagonists, but never skews too juvenile or unbelievably naive. While the first-person narration is a strong choice, it is somewhat disappointing that the story is filtered through the eyes of Tara, rather than Annie herself.
Originality: Levine's dazzling prose and compelling characters make for a charming middle-grade novel.
Character Development: Tara is a grounded protagonist and her journey as she navigates her guilt over bullying is admirable and likely relatable to many young readers. Annie is a sympathetic character whose optimism in the face of tragedy is sweet and moving.
Date Submitted: July 10, 2020
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.
Design and typography: B
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