Grief, Bullies, and Theodore Roosevelt

Grief Buries Jamie Douglas

Grief work is tough, especially for an eight-year-old boy who has just lost his mother. Bully! (The American Hero Series) by Ryan Stallings begins as Jamie and his father, Senator Paul Douglas, bury Paul’s wife, Jamie’s mother. Their sorrow is evident as they leave the cemetery. Dressed in almost identical black suits, each fights back tears, not wanting to cry in public. Both still think of the deep hole in the ground that had swallowed the coffin. Each had thrown a handful of dirt in that hole.

Afterward, in the back seat of the limo, Paul gives Jamie a present his mother had bought to give him on his birthday. Inside is a teddy bear. Jamie is disappointed since he thinks he’s too old for such a gift. He accepts it because it’s from his mother and names it Teddy.

Grief, Bullies, and Theodore Roosevelt: A Book Review of Bully, by Ryan Stallings

Then Paul takes Jamie to school, saying it’s a good way to keep busy, and that keeping busy is what will help them get through the grief. Little does Paul know that school is a great source of grief for Jamie even without his mother’s death to compound it.

The School and the Bullies

St. Stephens Academy of Boys is a school for the sons of the rich and powerful. Jamie is fragile. His father pays little attention to him. He is very much alone. He has no friends at school, but he does have enemies – Mitchell McBride and Roger Stevens. Their one joy at school is making life miserable for Jamie. They bully him unmercifully. It’s a shame his father had never read and discussed any of these books with him.

 Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns About Bullies Bully on the Bus (The Decision Is Yours Series No.2) The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: (Updated Edition) Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill Confessions of a Former Bully

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When Jamie arrives late to school after the funeral, he walks into history class. Mrs. Tibbitts is lecturing on Theodore Roosevelt. Then she decides it’s time for Show and Tell. No one volunteers to go first and Mrs. Tibbitts calls upon Jamie to share what’s in the package under his desk. He clutches the bear to himself and moves reluctantly to the front of the room. When Mrs. Tibbitts asks why it’s special enough to bring to school, Jamie can barely find his words. ‘My mother gave it to me.’

Mrs. Tibbitts suddenly realizes what she has done, and asks Jamie to forgive her and lets him go back to his seat. But she can’t undo the damage.

Mitchell and Roger can hardly wait for recess to begin tormenting Jamie about the bear. They rip it away from him throw it on the ground. Then they kick dirt all over it. After that they tease him because his mother is dead.

Meanwhile, as always, Mrs. Tibbetts has her nose in a book while on yard duty, and doesn’t see any of the action. In her mind she’s only required to be outside – not paying attention to what the children are doing. Too bad Jamie’s father had not read some of these books to Jamie.

 

Jamie Faces Grief Alone

After school ends that day, we next see Jamie home alone in his huge house. Paul is working late again. In his room, Jamie sees a family picture taken in happier times during a family vacation. He talks to his mother in the picture, telling her he got the bear.  He adds that Dad is working late again, as he’s often done ‘since you…since you left.’

Jamie then stares at Teddy’s face. It seems to change, as though it wants to talk to him. He even asks Teddy to talk, so ‘you could tell me what to do.’ Jamie puts Teddy in the empty chair across from his bed – the chair his mother used to rock him in as she read to him. Then he pushes the chair to make it rock. He tells Teddy he wishes he had a real daddy.

Grief, Bullies, and Theodore Roosevelt: A Book Review of Bully, by Ryan Stallings

Meanwhile, at 11:30 that night, Paul’s assistant, Susan says she wants to go home and asks Paul if he’s talked to Jamie that night.  Paul admits he forgot to call him. He asks Susan to check on him in the morning to make sure he has something to eat, since he plans to spend the night at the office. Meanwhile, Jamie slept at home alone. As he slept, the bear transformed gradually into Theodore Roosevelt himself.

“The Colonel” to the Rescue

Grief, Bullies, and Theodore Roosevelt: A Book Review of Bully, by Ryan Stallings
Theodore Roosevelt: In Public Domain Courtesy of Pixabay

The rest of the book shows us how Theodore Roosevelt’s relationship with both Jamie and Paul transforms their family life. “The Colonel,” as Roosevelt insists on being called, shows Paul what’s important and helps both Paul and Jamie deal with their grief. He also provides a lot of humorous scenes and helps Jamie learn to deal with the bullies in his life.

A good companion for this book is Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt by Jean Fritz. It offers a look at the real Theodore Roosevelt, though it, too, is a fictionalized biography, but remains true to the facts of Roosevelt’s life. See my detailed review of Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt here.

 Bully! (The American Heroes Series) Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt! (Unforgettable Americans)

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My Review

Although Bully has elements of fantasy, it also has elements of history and Roosevelt reveals parts of his life. It’s a “bully” story on dealing with bullies and grief, and though it’s written for children, it spoke loudly to me, as well.

This would be an excellent book for families to read aloud – especially if the children are grieving or have bullies who torment them. It has as much to say to parents as to children. Although recommended for ages 7-15, I believe ten is earliest the average child will be ready to read it independently. The book has no illustration aside from the cover. See our reviews of other novels for young people that deal with grief.

 

Grief, Bullies, and Theodore Roosevelt: A Book Review of Bully, by Ryan Stallings

 

 

 

Review of Bully For You, Teddy Roosevelt

Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt! 

 

Bully for You is the story of the 26th American President as only Jean The Life of Jean Fritz with Reviews of her BooksFritz can tell it. Fritz reveals how Theodore Roosevelt, who hated the name Teddy, beat the odds to fulfill his goal of becoming the President of the United States. He also  had a stuffed animal named after him.

In this post I will first summarize the book, and then give my recommendation.

Roosevelt’s Early Life

Review of Bully For You, Teddy Roosevelt by Jean Fritz
Room Where Theodore Roosevelt Was Born,  Public Domain, Library of Congress Archives

Theodore Roosevelt started life as a puny, sickly boy subject to terrible asthma attacks. Many things scared him, including the werewolf he was sure was at the foot of his bed. Even the word zeal sounded frightening to him the way the preacher said it.

He greatly admired and loved his father. He was determined “to amount to something” someday so that his father would be proud of him. Tutors taught him at home because his father considered him too sickly to go to school.

Teddy Works to Become Strong

Teddy’s frail health worried his father, who one day called Theodore in and told him that although he had a good mind, he would never develop his potential unless he built up his body and his strength.  He needed to “make his body.” His father then added a gym to the house and Teddy pushed himself as hard as he could to become strong. He succeeded and continued to push himself to his limits all his life.

 

Teddy had great interest in the natural world from an early age. He collected all sorts of living creatures — insects, snakes, frogs, anything he could catch and observe. He would measure and describe them in notebooks. Teddy thought he wanted to a naturalist and considered himself to have already started his career. He especially liked birds.

Teddy was the sort of boy who wanted to  do everything and do it all at once. He thrived on action.  While at Harvard he involved himself in extra-curricular activities that included shooting, art, writing, history, and more.

 Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt! (Unforgettable Americans)

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Marriage and Interest in Politics

He  married for the first time when he was 22. His doctor told him then  that he had a bad heart and that he should live a quiet and sedentary life. He ignored that advice. He went to law school and wanted to get involved in government, but he came from an  aristocratic family and most aristocrats felt politics wasn’t a proper activity for “gentlemen.” They were supposed to influence from behind the scenes without “getting their hands dirty.”

Teddy, however, still wanted to be where the action was, so he took to dropping by Republican headquarters on his way to the opera, in his fancy clothes. The headquarters was above a saloon, and the local politicians were working people not used to associating with the likes of Roosevelt. Finally the men became used to him and they were able to  communicate.

Election to the New York State Assembly

During the summer break from law school, Teddy and his wife Alice went to Europe. Teddy, who by then was very athletic, climbed mountains, including the Matterhorn. After he returned to school he was elected to his first public office – Assemblyman to the New York State Legislature. He decided law school was no longer important, so he quit.

Review of Bully For You, Teddy Roosevelt by Jean Fritz
Theodore Roosevelt: New York Assemblyman, 1884, photo from Library of Congress Archives, Public Domain

Roosevelt was quite a sensation in the Assembly with his fancy clothes and his squeaky voice that spoke with a Harvard drawl. He was often  ridiculed and called “Young Squirt,” “His Lordship,” and other mocking names, but he soon began to make friends. Always a reformer,  he was determined to right wrongs  and fight corruption. But he also learned “give and take” was necessary in order to get things done, and he had to admit to himself that he didn’t know everything.

Illness and Grief

He became sick and sought treatment in a spa. He hated the treatment but did regain his health. Afterwards he went to the Dakota country to hunt buffalo. After several days of rain and mud and even being hurt, he persisted until he finally shot his prey. He invested in cattle and hired people to  care for them before returning to New York.

Then things turned bad. His wife had a baby girl. His mother was sick in an upstairs room and died that night. The next afternoon his wife died on the first floor of the same house. That was a terrible Valentine’s Day.

To deal with the pain, he left the baby in the care of his sister “Bamie” and returned to Albany to plunge into his work. He named the baby Alice after his wife, but never told his daughter about her mother.  After that he never mentioned his wife again — not even in his autobiography. He erased pain by putting things out of his mind and keeping them in the past.

Ranching and Remarriage

When his assembly term was over, he became a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Chicago and then retreated to the Dakota country again, glad to get away from politics.  He purchased more cattle and started a ranch, doing a lot of physical work himself, participating in the round-up activities right beside the cowboys. The friends he made there were the core of his “Rough Riders” later.

Review of Bully For You, Teddy Roosevelt by Jean Fritz
Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, enlisted men and bird mascot, at military camp, Montauk Point, New York, Courtesy of Library of Congress Archives

Theodore continued to travel between east and west and on one trip east in 1885, less than two years after Alice had died, he became secretly engaged to Edith Carow, an old childhood friend. After they were married, he stayed active in politics, and continued writing his books.

Fighting Corruption and Promoting Conservation

He climbed from one influential position to another, always fighting corruption and promoting conservation and preservation of wilderness areas. By 1895 he had a total of five children and would have another two years later.

 

By 1900, Roosevelt had been New York City Police Commissioner, an appointee to the Civil Service Commission under Benjamin Harrison, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, and Vice-President of the United States under William McKinley. When McKinley was assassinated in 1901, Roosevelt became  President of the United States at the age of 42, making him the youngest president ever. He was reelected in his own right in 1904.

Theodore Roosevelt as a Family Man

He was a family man and delighted in his children. His father, who had made his own childhood so happy, was his role model. The White House had never been as lively as it became when the Roosevelts moved in with their pets and children, who had the run of it. Teddy played with his children actively and they had access to him most of the time — occasionally even interrupting him during official meetings.

After leaving the White House, behind, Teddy still actively worked for his causes and wrote and stayed involved in the political realm, continuing to have adventures, including being shot at, until his death in 1919. I believe he reached his goal of “amounting to something” and that his father would have been very proud of him.

Review of Bully For You, Teddy Roosevelt by Jean Fritz
Grave of Theodore Roosevelt, courtesy of Terry Ballard at Flickr.com, CC 2.0

 

My Review

This exciting and entertaining biography  will keep those of middle school age and above turning the pages as they witness an era of American life and politics that shaped much early environmental policy and made America more influential on the international stage.  They will also see that someone born sick and puny doesn’t have to stay that way, and that someone with a squeaky voice can indeed “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” as Teddy said it himself. here.  Reading level 6.8. Target age 10-14. 

 Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt! (Unforgettable Americans)

Teddy Bears were named after Theodore Roosevelt, even though he hated the name Teddy. I’ve included a couple of adorable Teddy bears here, in case you might want one to accompany this book. Give it to a child who needs to remember to become strong.

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 Gund Slumbers Teddy Bear Stuffed Animal Huge Teddy Bear – Tan

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Is it Poetry, Prose or Merely Verse?

How did poetry begin?

Poetry began long before man started writing. Our ancestors used it to communicate important information that needed to be repeated often and to be passed from generation to generation. This information could be anything from prayers to the gods to recipes for magic charms and tales of heroes and daring deeds. Many of these developed in the the epic poetry you may remember studying in school — tales such as Beowulf, which many of us did not appreciate much because it was in an older and unfamiliar version of English. Here’s how it sounds.

Back before written language, these poems served not only for instruction and religion, but also for entertainment in an age that not only did not enjoy electronics and TV, but did not even have books. All they had was oral language. Out of it, they put pleasing sounds and images together that were easy to remember. They became songs, chants, praises and prayers to gods, and even took the place of the newspapers we have today. This early poetry was sung, because we all know it’s easier to remember a song than a paragraph. How did you learn your alphabet and how many days are in each month? Why are there musical versions of the multiplication tables? Because songs are easy to remember.

So what is poetry?

Before you ever thought about this, poetry was probably a big part of your life. If you were fortunate, your parents sang you lullabies and maybe even silly songs. They may have read you nursery rhymes and picture books. If so, you were introduced to verse and to rhythm, and possibly even to imagery and figurative language. You might also have responded emotionally.

When I was very young, my mother used to read Edward Lear’s The Jumblies to me from the old orange Childcraft poetry volume. As you will see in this video, it has the elements of poetry. It is full of rhymes, repetitive sounds, and poetic devices like alliteration. It also engages the emotions of children as you see the storm come up. They care how the Jumblies will fare.

Poetry Definitions

Many people assume they know what poetry is and have never thought of trying to define it. Others throughout the centuries have tried to explain it. Many think poetry is that stuff they had to read in school and didn’t like. They never thought of Elvis in connection with poetry, but much of what he sang was poetry.  My own definition is in the top photo: Poetry: Words Arranged as Music to the Ear to Strike a Chord in the Heart

In my own search for a definition, I consulted my now out of print Poet’s Handbook by Clement Wood, currently available on eBay.  On page three he simply defines it as “verse which produces a deep emotional response.” Of course, to understand that, one has to know what verse is. Clement defines verse as “words arranged according to some conventionalized repetition. ” So it appears poetry is one type of verse. (Amazon may also have The Poet’s Handbook in stock. It is out of print.)

 The Poet’s Cookbook: Details for over 50 forms, types of meter, structure, rhyme and over 100 writing exercises.

 

To learn what separates poetry from prose, it’s handy to have one or more of these books around. They are useful to those who teach or write poetry. They also help those who read or study poetry and want to fully appreciate the techniques poets use.

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 A Poetry Handbook Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop Poet’s Market 2017: The Most Trusted Guide for Publishing Poetry

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What’s the difference between poetry and prose? Wood believes that in our western culture, prose is “words whose rhythm tends toward variety, rather than uniformity or regularity,” as opposed to poetry, in which the rhythm tends toward regularity. He also points out that in some other cultures, notably the Hebrew culture, the conventions are different.

For purposes of our discussion here, we will consider western conventions, keeping in mind that Oriental and Semitic cultures have different criteria, which are equally valid. One common thread I see running through all is that poetry means to elicit an emotional response in the listener or reader. Were you one of the millions who responded emotionally to “Love me Tender”?

Let’s look at some writing.

I wrote this at Sequim Bay in Washington, where at night we could see phytoplankton fluorescence in the water. It’s still written in my trip journal and I looked back at it in search of something to use in this article. Would you call it poetry or prose? Why?

In the bay at night
Where fish glow in the dark
I throw gravel in by the handful
And fireworks go off
Below the water’s surface.

Is it Poetry, Prose or Merely Verse?
Sequim Bay, © B. Radisavljevic

Is this poetry, verse or prose?

#1 The want of you is like no other thing; it smites my soul with sudden sickening; it binds my being with a wreath of rue– this want of you. (Ivan Wright)

#2 Is it a sin to love thee? Then my soul is deeply dyed, for my lifeblood, as it gushes takes its crimson from love’s tide; and I feel its waves roll o’re me and the blushes mount my brow and my pulses quicken wildly, as the love dreams come and go. (Unknown)

#3 I went to the animal fair,
The birds and the beasts were there.
The big baboon, by the light of the moon,
Was combing his auburn hair.

#4 And then the cat came. After the rains, when Grandfather and I were silent and uneasy with each other, and the lawn grew too long, and June bugs threw themselves against the lamplit screens, I heard the soft thump as the cat jumped up to my sill. (Patricia MacLachlan, Journey, p. 38)

#5 I heard the creaking door as I sat at my desk, writing,
And the the floor beneath me and the chair I sat in shook
and the shaking echoed in my heart. (B. Radisavljevic)

(We had a brief earthquake, the second, of two the night I wrote that.)

I have changed the formatting on some of these excerpts on purpose. I am going to share some principles below and then throw the discussion open in the comments to let you sound off on whether these excerpts are poetry, prose, or just unpoetic verse. Since nobody here but me wrote any of them, no one’s feelings will be hurt and you can have at it.

What makes poetry poetry?

 Writing Poetry

In the five examples I gave above, there were different formats, but the format does not make a poem. I love the simple definition Shelley Tucker gives for poetry in the book Writing Poetry: ” A poem is a compact piece of writing that contains one or more poetic elements. ”

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What are poetic elements? The repeated rhythm of sounds is one. It might be a repeated consonant sound (alliteration) or a vowel sound (assonance). Those are the two easiest to identify for our purposes here. To illustrate both of them I will share another video which has both. This song, “I Am So Proud,” is one of my favorites from “The Mikado,” by Gilbert and Sullivan. If you are unfamiliar with this light opera in English, I have written about it at HubPages: Gilbert and Sullivan, the Mikado, and Me, and you can get the story there, since it’s pretty intricate. The three characters in the video are trying to decide which of them should be executed by beheading. Each gives his reasons why he’d volunteer, but finds a face-saving reason why he can’t. At the end they sing together about the fate of the unlucky one:

To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock,
In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock,
Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock,
From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!

Although you can see the consonants and the vowels repeated if you look, this was really meant for your ears to hear. So it will be better if you listen to the video. You will also hear the rhyming words at the ends of the lines, another element used in poetry, in this song. Gilbert was a genius at using these poetic devices, but they are intended to be heard, like most poetry, not just read.

The End of the Matter is This

Clement Wood shared the definitions many renowned poets and critics gave of poetry. Most were so broad they meant little. He quoted Bryant, Lee Hunt, Samuel Johnson, and Macauley, and finally Shelley, who said poetry was “the record of the best and happiest moments of the best and happiest minds.” If you’ve ever read the life and work of Edgar Allen Poe, who was far from happy, and many of the other poets, you will be aware that it was not always the happiest moments they wrote about. So it would seem this definition is nonsense.

By the time I finished reading quotes from the dictionary and from Wordsworth, who said it was “emotion recollected in tranquillity,” and Matthew Arnold who said: “Poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive , and widely effective mode of saying things,” I conclude with Wood that no one really can say for sure what poetry is, and how it differs from prose. Coleridge said the difference was this: “Prose is words in the best order, poetry is the best words in the best order.” I think many prose writers also choose the best words in the best order for the effect they want to have on a reader. Some prose is poetic. Some of what is intended to be poetry, isn’t.

Is it Poetry, Prose or Merely Verse?

I believe poetry is using sounds, rhythm, and /or rhyme in ways that repeat themselves while using imagery and figurative language to inspire an emotional reaction in the reader or listener. That might be love, sorrow, a sense of loss, happiness, compassion, or even humor. It is not necessary for words at the end of lines to rhyme, and blank verse is more popular now than other more regulated poetic forms.

But even blank verse has repeated rhythms and sounds, just as a song does. Formatting a piece of writing with short lines and starting each line with a capital letter doesn’t make something poetry. Neither does a perfect verse have to be a poem. It’s my opinion that a verse that does not reach the heart or funny bone of a reader probably isn’t poetry. It’s also true that what reaches my heart might not reach yours.

Is it Poetry, Prose or Merely Verse? Can poetry be defined?

What Do You Think?

Now I leave the rest of this discussion to you. Are the five examples I gave above poetry or prose? Pick and choose the ones you want to talk about by number so we will all be on the same page. Be sure and give the reasons for your opinion and we will all learn something.

As to what I wrote about Sequim Bay, I don’t consider it poetry. It would be interesting to see what you poets would do to make it poetry. I have my own ideas, but I’d rather see yours in the comments. Have fun. That’s what poetry is supposed to be, unless, of course, it’s sad. How wold you define poetry?

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