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.
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 BulliesBully 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 HillConfessions of a Former Bully
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.
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
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.
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.