Picture Book Review: Big Bad Bruce

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Big Bad Bruce is a big bully. He spends his time picking on the smaller species of the forest until he meets a witch. She shrinks him down to size and then takes him home as a pet.

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When I stumble upon a new (to me) author or illustrator that both the children and I enjoy I have a tendency to go hog-wild and start placing all of said author/illustrator’s works on hold at our library. Such was the case with Bill Peet and our discovery of Eli. Loved it.

I wish I could same for this book. I love the illustrations. I love the way Bill Peet throws mixed up, made up words into the story line that somehow say precisely what they are supposed to. Love that. And the children love it, too.  What I don’t like is the ending. After being shrunk, and then chased by species larger than himself, Bruce meets the witch again. Terrified, Bruce tries to hide. But there is nothing to worry about, the witch takes him home as a pet. And once life starts getting really cozy, Bruce heads out the yard (his new forest) and starts picking on the smaller species again.

The ending is contrary to morality. Bruce is a bully. Bruce is taught a lesson. Bruce is rewarded. Bruce starts bullying again. The end. He never learns the lesson and the reader is left with an incredulity and awkwardness. Sure I can talk to my kids about how bullying is wrong and Bruce shouldn’t do it. But the books imprints more on their hearts than my moralizing to a child. Nah. There are too many good books out there to waste anymore time on this one.

The kids? They haven’t picked it up again, either.  That says more than my entire review.

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  • Author: Bill Peet
  • Publisher: Turtleback (October 25, 1982)
  • School & Library Binding 38 pages
  • Reading Age: Ages 5 +

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What You Need to Know

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  • Role Models/Authority Figures – None.
  • Violence – Bruce bowls over the smaller animals.
  • Sexual Content – None.
  • Language – Bill Peet’s brilliant use of made up words. The text flows well and isn’t painful to read aloud.
  • Consumerism – None.
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs – None.
  • Religion – None.
  • Other – None.
  • Awards

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Eli

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Eli, an old lion, has seen better days. He doesn’t even hang out with the pride anymore. In fact, his life has become such that he must eat the leftovers the vultures leave behind! Alas, fate would have it that he saves a vultures life, and in so doing, learns a bit about friendship along the way.

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Apparently, I was living under a rock. I hadn’t ever heard of Bill Peet. Neither as an author, nor as an illustrator. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered his role in many a Walt Disney flick. You won’t be surprised, then, to find the illustrations in this book are fabulous. Charming without being cute (a mean and ferocious cute lion? wouldn’t work!). The language is exactly the kind that should be in a picture book. Words directed towards a child, without speaking down to him. Yet, words a parent won’t tire of reading – even on the twentieth go around. The story line - a bit reminiscient of Aesop’s The Lion and the Mouse. If you haven’t read this. Get thee to a library now.

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  • Author: Bill Peet
  • Illustrator: Bill Peet
  • Publisher: Turtleback (October 29, 1984)
  • Reading Age: Ages 4 and up
  • School and Library Binding: 48 pages

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What You Need to Know

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  • Role Models/Authority Figures – Eli, the lion. Learns about friendship.
  • Violence – If you count Eli killing a hyena, or hunters stalking a lion then there’s violence. I don’t.
  • Sexual Content – None.
  • Language – Beautiful language. Sometimes made up.
  • Consumerism – None.
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs – None.
  • Religion – None.
  • Other
  • Awards

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