Cover of Bully Blues. This book in the Journey to a Better World series deals with xenophobia and bullying.Book Reviews 

“Bully Blues” and Unlearning Xenophobia


In Bully Blues, the main character, Seth, unlearns the xenophobia behind his bullying behavior and becomes an advocate for multiculturalism.

Reviewed by Jamie Johnson

The next book in the Journey to a Better World series is Bully Blues. This book follows Seth, a bully who has learned xenophobic ideology at home, and his journey towards unlearning those harmful lessons with the gracious guidance of journalist, author, and advocate for refugee rights Abdi Nor Iftin.

Unlearning xenophobia through kindness

At the start of the book, Seth’s xenophobia seems to know no bounds and he misses no opportunity to say hurtful things to his classmates, even attempting to punch one of them (and thankfully failing). He is aggressively closed-minded to other cultures and experiences, and believes that his hometown belongs exclusively to people from his own culture.

When his family suffers a tragic house fire and Abdi encourages his classmates to open their homes to him, Seth has to open his heart. Their kindness baffles him when he knows he has been cruel to them. The father of one of his classmates says to him, “We are all human and deserve love and care.” 

From then, Seth is a changed boy. He sheds his xenophobia and embraces the diversity of cultures that makes humanity so wonderful. The last pages depict a culture fair and the whole community having fun together and experiencing different cuisines and performances.

Educational opportunities and personalizing the lesson

The gentle, rhyming narrative by Tracy Blom eases kids through the painful topic of xenophobia and bullying. The work of illustrator Ronald McKinney and graphic designer Noah Ruff helps the book maintain a high level of interest in each page with lovely art (the depictions of various foods look good enough to eat!) and a variety of interesting layouts. The back of the book has a glossary that defines some words used in the story and is designed to look like a student’s notebook.

Folded into the story are sidebars with recipes for foods from Italy, Mexico, and Ethiopia, as well as brief notes about the culture and geography of each country. Trying out a recipe with your students or children would be a fun way to explore the material. Older kids might also enjoy doing their own research into the cultures and cuisines of other countries.

Like Worrisome Waters, this book also has an activity to help reinforce the ideas learned in the story. This entry in the Journey to a Better World series focuses on undoing xenophobia by showing the beauty of other cultures and ways of life, so this time we have a multi-step activity about heritage. First kids note what continents their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were born in. Then, they compare their family trees to their classmates and think about what foods from their heritage and their classmates’ heritages they would like to try. Finally, they gather in groups according to their heritage and think about what that activity showed. 

To get one for yourself or your classroom, go to Journey to a Better World: Bully Blues. Or, contact VISTA to buy in bulk or donate a class set to a school.

Read about the next book in the series: “Flu Finders” Teaches What to Do When Sick

About the Reviewer

Jamie Johnson is a copy editor, proofreader, and word nerd. In their free time, they can often be found hiking, reading, or talking to cats (all three on a good day).

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