Belden Boy Series - Backwoods Bully
by P. J. HarteNaus
Whistleslick Press

"I got a hankering to go inside the kitchen and see if Mrs. McDugal is keeping the egg money inside the cookie jar."

In this third installment of the Belden Boys series of books, readers spend their time getting to know Franky Olson, the school bully and occasional friend of Peter McDugal. While at first Franky's pranks and selfish behavior may seem like something he does simply to get his kicks, it is quickly revealed that Franky's actions are the result of a difficult home life and trouble focusing on his lessons. With a mean new teacher who relishes the opportunity to humiliate Franky, a sick mother at home, and a farm with no food, Franky takes the frustrations of his life out on others often to his own chagrin when consequences or guilt work their way back to him. Though he is still young, Franky must learn that a simple act of kindness can reverse someone's entire fortune before he's left with nothing and no friends.

The author's emphasis in this entire series has always been that the same issues facing schoolchildren now exist almost identically in the past, and this book echoes that same concept by showing how bullying gets started and how it can be helped with simple compassion. While younger children may need some historical context to understand some of the events in the book, older children will get twice the educational benefit by reinforcing history lessons and teaching them about cooperation and what makes and stops a bully. All of this does not take into the account that the story is inherently entertaining as well, meaning that readers will devour and absorb Franky's adventures quickly, not unlike those of Tom Sawyer. No knowledge of the previous two books is required to enjoy this one, but the complete story does flesh the characters out even further and set up where the story might go from here.

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