Stick Boy by Paul Coomey

Cover illustration by Paul Coomey

As part of my ongoing mission to transform all of my class into readers, I very often have books that I’ve ordered or won delivered to school and make a big deal out of opening any packages, sharing the books and their blurbs with the children. When this arrived at the end of last week, together with another title gifted to me by Little Tiger, there was a huge buzz because of the bright and bold cover – one which was probably the biggest fuss I have as yet experienced.

I’ve said before here how I would’ve ignored some books that I have gone on to adore this year because I dismissed them based purely on appearance; fortunately for me though, I have gone on to read them after receiving lots of recommendations on Twitter and have not missed out. This is a book at the other end of the spectrum that I think will be finding its way into a lot of younger readers hands because – if my charges are anything to go by – it has enormous visual appeal to its target audience.

Stick Boy’s family has recently moved to Little Town and we meet him on his way to his new school for only the second time. At what would already be an anxious time for him, his worries are compounded by his being chased by school bully Sam. Briefly, it appears that he is to be rescued from his fate by the appearance of a third person but sadly the newcomer is Gretchen, another bully. After realising that Stick is hiding his slender frame behind a road sign, the pair force him out before Sam shakes him down to empty his pockets. They then take huge delight in disposing of most of his belongings over a wall, recording their antics for posterity to upload onto sharing platform Vidwire.

Finally left alone, a tearful Stick is discovered sitting on the kerb by Ekam who helps him up and walks the rest of the way to school with him where Stick impresses him and another boy called Nic by opening his locker using the end of his stick arm as a skeleton key. The three boys then head to assembly where the Head Teacher announces that there will be a concert for the grand opening of the new Baron Ben’s Bargain Binz Magnificent Mega Mall on the following Saturday.

Having now found a couple of sympathetic school mates, Stick goes on to encounter another friendly face in the form of Milo in Mr Jansari’s science class, where there is huge excitement at the prospect of the school choosing a representative to sing at the concert in the Friday Factor to be held at the end of the week. Just as things seem to be on the up for Stick, they take a downward turn again when he heads to his ICT class for a double lesson with Miss Bird, who takes an instant dislike to him.

Having managed to get through the day, Stick returns home to discover that his father has bought a new television from Baron Ben’s Bargain Binz which has come with a free gift: a HomeBot. After dinner, Stick’s dad tries to use the HomeBot to control the new TV but only succeeds in showing adverts for the opening of the Mega Mall. As Stick goes to make a cup of tea, he cannot help but notice that the HomeBot follows him to the kitchen. This bizarre behaviour is swiftly followed by the gadget managing to upset Stick’s mum by unplugging her laptop.

Arriving late to school the following day, Stick is almost caught by Miss Bird but hides behind some lockers from where he overhears her talking on her mobile, noting that she appears to be frightened. He thinks nothing more of this after she disappears and manages to get through the day without incident until Gretchen and Sam catch up with him and force him to unlock the door of Mr Jansari’s classroom while Sam records him doing so on Gretchen’s phone.

When the theft of Mr Jansari’s laptop is announced, followed by the footage of Stick unlocking the door being made public, Stick finds himself in all sorts of trouble. Not only is he grounded by his parents but he finds himself in detention with Sam, carrying out Miss Bird’s bizarre requests. Will he be able to prove that he didn’t steal the laptop? What is Miss Bird up to? And what is the connection between the increasingly odd behaviour of the HomeBots and the grand opening of the Mega Mall?

When I requested this book from the publisher, one of the main reasons I asked for it was because it stated that it would appeal to those readers who are fans of the Wimpy Kid books and suchlike. I do not own any of those – indeed I have never even read any of them – but many of my children love them and I was hoping to find something here that would appeal to those children for whom the longer, more challenging reads that I have on my shelf do not appeal, but would be of an equally high quality.

The beauty of this book is that it will appeal greatly to those children – as my sharing the cover with them has shown – but they will not realise that this is closer to those more challenging reads that – in the main – they choose not to read. Not only does this book have a highly engaging cover to hook them in, but the illustrations within the pages are all full colour and there are enough of them to persuade even the most reluctant of readers that this is not going to prove to be overly challenging while giving them a storyline with a great deal more content.

Not only will the pictures ensnare those children, but the device of the protagonist quite literally being a stick man will also engage them enormously. Even my children who tell me they cannot draw can draw stick men, and this opens up all sorts of possibilities to create their own artwork and stories based on this character. Being a stick man also leads to all sorts of jokes and references to Stick’s day-to-day existence such as the location of his pockets and a laugh-out-loud funny section where the practicalities of being a stick man are discussed. This humour is necessary to provide a sharp contrast to the sections where Stick is bullied horribly by Sam and Gretchen.

Bullies very often appear in books but usually where a boy is being bullied, he is bullied by another boy. By choosing to make the bullies female, the author has given them more power and this makes the story a great starting point for class discussions. Equality between sexes does not just extend to pay and opportunities in the workplace – boys are very often taught at home that girls should be treated differently – more gently – because of their gender and this is nonsense. A bully is a bully is a bully and if we do not teach all of our children at home that this is unacceptable behaviour, regardless of who delivers it, then it becomes even more important that it is addressed in school. That is not to say that I am advocating boys going around scrapping with the girls with whom they learn if they are treated poorly, rather that all children need to see that unkindness and bullying of anyone is unacceptable and that boys should not tolerate this kind of behaviour from anyone, irrespective of gender.

I cannot wait to share this book with my class – the fact that so many of them already want to read it speaks volumes. I did try to find out whether or not there will be a sequel to this to no avail, but I’m sure there will be plenty of readers hungry for a second book, if not a series. Huge thanks must go to Little Tiger for my copy, received ahead of publication on January 7th next year. 5 out of 5 stars.

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