"Who saw what happened?" our teacher asks.
I've read about this picture book on several blogs some time ago. It is about bullying. It is about standing up to the bully. It is almost everything we would expect from a children's book on this alarming issue.
Bet you didn't expect though ...
The protagonist of RED, the heroine, was also the one who'd started the teasing.
It started out small. She noticed Tommy's blush and pointed it out. Her group of friends began to giggle, and laugh, and the spot of red on Tommy's cheeks grew "From tomato to strawberry to cherry red."
One of her friends, Paul, laughed louder and louder.
Tommy grew quieter and quieter.
Our heroine didn't feel this was funny anymore. She desperately wanted it to stop. But she couldn't stand up to Paul, who was gaining strength through menace.
She was the one who'd started this trouble, and now she felt the loneliness Tommy felt, of being stranded on or caged in one side of the playground, up against Paul and the rest. How would she get Tommy, and in turn herself, out of this spread of distress?
We tease. I reckon all of us must have teased someone at some point, and most of us must have enjoyed it.
We get teased. I suppose all of us must have been teased by someone at some point, and we'd probably laughed it off in good humour.
So when does teasing leave and bullying begin? (A student and I had this discussion last week. Apparently, for teenagers, it's quite difficult to tell between the two.)
When? When it stops being funny. When the air gets strained and some embarrassment is detected. Or like in this book, when the person getting teased grows quieter, you know you've gone a few steps too far. Time to turn around and make sure that person's heart/pride/self-esteem is taken care of. I wish I had the sense to be more careful with others' pride when I was younger, and that I were braver in defending those I saw verbally bullied.
My only consolation? Never too late to have that sense now.
On another note, Red can be so many things. As a child, I learned in English class that red is symbolic of anger ("saw red" ~ for some weird reason, this phrase often appeared in our multiple choice questions) while in my culture, it is symbolic of festivity, joy and prosperity. During Chinese New Year, we all had to wear red ~ a touch of it is very nice, but sometimes it's a lot of red, and it always hurt my eyes. Older, I learned red is also symbolic of passion, of enthusiasm, of loudness and activity ~ characteristics I didn't have a lot of and so I'd resisted wearing or picking that colour for a long time. Red also gave the impression of danger, and strangely, shame. (Back in adolescence, having menses was something we had to hide or be flustered about. As if growing into womanhood was something undesirable, or something we had to speak in codes about.)
Now, older-er, I've discovered that I get to choose my meanings of red, and as long as it's my interpretation, it doesn't hurt my eyes much anymore.
Red (to me now) = Blood pumping through = Being alive = Passionate work = Courage = Warm sophistication
Have you read this picture book? What is Red to you?
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Want to know what children's stories can inspire & lead to?
by Kate Hanney
Really enjoyed the honest voice of this narrator ~ a teenager let down by his mother and the foster care system, and almost-picked up through his involvement with a gang.