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Kitchen Table Reviews: Billy Bully

The story of Billy Bully will teach children counting and how to be a good friend.

By Mir Kamin | July 10 , 2009
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<i>Billy Bully</i> by Alvaro & Ana Galan
Billy Bully by Alvaro & Ana Galan

Billy Bully has a problem; he’s not a very good friend. His antics on the playground and in the classroom are causing problems, and it’s not until he hasn’t a single friend left that he starts mending his ways. Once he does, though, he’s a veritable poster child for generous friendship, and by the end of the book, everyone is friends again. Hooray! (I hope I didn’t ruin it for you.)

Me: I know this book is for littler kids, but I was curious to hear what you two thought.

Son: It was a pretty good book, I thought. I think little kids would like it.

Me: Like how little?

Son: I dunno. Preschool age? Like, maybe from 2 or 3 to 5 or so…?

Me: What about you?

Daughter: Well, it’s fine, I guess, but if it’s supposed to be a counting book I don’t think it’s very good.

Me: What do you mean?

Daughter: The subtitle is “A school-yard counting tale.” But there’s so much other stuff going on with the story, half the time I forgot they were counting. It’s not very good for kids wanting to learn to count, but it’s a fine story, otherwise.

Me: I see.

Son: Yeah, also, they start off at 10 and go down to 1, and if a kid was really learning to count, that’s probably confusing. They should start at 1 for counting.

Here I stopped to just stare at the kids. They were clearly in the mood to nitpick.

Me: Okay. Forget the counting for a minute. Suppose this is just a book about… manners and friendship, let’s say. Do you think little kids would like it, and learn from it?

Daughter: Well, a lot of the stuff Billy does at first is mean, but I don’t know if I’d call it bullying. Is it about bullying?

[I put my head down on the table.]

Son: It’s okay, Mom! It’s a fun story about playing nice. And it has some lessons and some rhyming and some counting. I think little kids would like it.

[I picked my head back up.]

Me: Do you know what this book reminded me of?

Both: What?

Me: Those “Goofus and Gallant” cartoons in Highlights magazine.

Son: Oh, yeah!

Daughter: I always loved those. Well, if it’s meant to be like that, the same sort of exaggerated “Don’t do this, do this instead” kind of thing, then I like it.

In summary: Don’t buy if you’re only looking for a counting book or prefer a super-narrow definition of “bully.” Heh.

Pros: Counting and good manners, two great lessons that go great together. Singsong rhymes make it all go down easy. Happy ending.

Cons: My daughter thinks this isn’t really a counting book. My son says counting backwards at the outset is confusing for little kids. My children have become extremely critical.

As a great book for preschoolers who need to learn good friend etiquette more than counting skills, Billy Bully gets three thumbs up from our kitchen table.

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