Sticks and Stones

S. & S. Nov. 2020. 48p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534426221.
K-Gr 4–An awkward and overly complicated school reminiscence set in wintry, long-ago Michigan takes on gender bullying at an all-white school. Trisha (Polacco, as a girl) is befriended by Thom, who is called “Sissy Boy” by their classmate, Billy. Trisha likes Thom and finds they share interests including art and ballet. Thom is terrible at sports but he is imaginative and inspires Trish to think creatively as well. Over Christmas, Thom’s mother takes them to see The Nutcracker and Trish sees Thom transported by the visions onstage. Thom goes on to win acclaim in a performance of a dance from Swan Lake, and much later, he enrolls in the New York City Ballet. The dense pages of story include a third friend, shy and artistic Ravanne, who, like Thom and Polacco, marches to the beat of a different drummer. And while the tale has a great message about bullying, and that the ultimate way to persevere and transcend detractors is to be one’s best self, that gets oversimplified in the truncations and telescoping of the plot points.
VERDICT A well-intentioned tale full of expressive scenes, this is not Polacco’s strongest piece; though it may be her most heartfelt.

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