Written by Janet Reed Ahearn
Illustrated by Drazen Kozjan
(Disney Hyperion Books, 2010)
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.
Who came up with that lame expression? I’ve got a few names for him! Seriously, name calling, putdowns and taunts get under our skin, particularly when we’re young. My mother, my teachers and practically every adult I knew when I was a child offered the same advice: “Just ignore it.” I never found that effective. How can you ignore being called Maggot or Stupidhead or Bird Turd?! To most adults, the names seem trivial, even nonsensical, but kids like to be called by their name. Moreover, the tone in which “Stupidhead” is uttered and the witnesses hearing the offending remark make ignoring impossible.
As a principal, I deal with name calling incidents on a regular basis. By the time things get to me, “Stupidhead” has opted for a more problematic recourse. Thus, I picked up Don’t Call Me Pruneface! from the local library, hoping it would give kids some other useful, safe choices. I don’t think it does that, but it does open things up for discussion.
Paul is “a good boy.” In fact, his grandmother says he’s “as good as gold.” But then Prudence becomes his new neighbor. He immediately surmises she’s a lunatic since she walks her cat on a leash. On their first encounter, Prudence changes his name to Pill and offers another mild insult. Each day, she continues to act mean and spew putdowns. Paul doesn’t react, but thinks up responses. Not only is she a lunatic, she’s a creep and, yes, her name should be Pruneface. Ultimately, he is taunted enough and finally blurts his name for her. Things are resolved before matters escalate. The book’s primary purpose is to entertain, not to educate.
Still, I would take this book and ask a class what Paul’s options are. When he thinks but doesn’t say mean things, is that okay? What may have caused Prudence to come off as rude on the first encounter? Did he try to ignore her and did that work? Why didn’t he talk to his grandmother about his problem? Is the ending realistic? What other things could have happened after Paul called Prudence “Pruneface”? How have you reacted to name calling? What might you do next time (and, yes, there will be a next time)?
Sometimes a book can mark the beginning of an important conversation, an opportunity that should not be ignored.