Bootsie Barker Bites
written by Barbara Bottner
illustrated by Peggy Rathmann

Barbara Bottner's Bootsie Barker Bites
Illustrated by Peggy Rathmann

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 3-8

A book about bullying behind closed doors


Bootsie Barker doesn't even look nice.

The first thing you notice are the gritted teeth inside that frozen smile. (Take a close look at that book cover.)

Bootsie is a designated play date because her mom is good friends with our unnamed protagonist's mom. Bootsie is a fake friend.

When the moms tell the girls to go play, that's when the terror starts.

Upstairs, in the bedroom, Bootsie regularly turns play into a game that might as well be called Carnivorous Dinosaur. This secret bullying consists of Bootsie chasing her smaller companion and making as if to eat her.

How Bootsie looks to her victim

Bootsie is comfortable:

  • pulling hair
  • twisting arms
  • pinning her undersized companion to the ground
  • name-calling
  • pet-abusing, and
  • covering her vicitm's mouth so she can't call out.

Author Bottner wisely leaves it to Caldecott medal-winning illustrator Rathmann to convey the full extent of the bullying.

Shame, presumably, keeps our little heroine quiet for awhile, dreaming vividly of the next horror perpetrated by Bootsie, as well as a world without her tormentor.

But, finally, with another visit pending, terror wins out.

Bootsie Barker is a DINOSAUR!" I shout,

In Bootsie Barker Bites, two coping methods are illustrated, and this is the first: reportage. Telling a grown-up what's happening unseen.

Then, in the upbeat climax, our little heroine manages to terrorize Bootsie right back. She's going to play "Paleontologist" and hunt dinosaur bones.

Bootsie's own dinosaur bones.

Bootsie exits stage left, hair standing on end, leaving behind her pretentious hat for a bullied salamander to pull apart.

Bootsie Barker Bites - review

This tale of secret bullying is picture book story storytelling at its finest and most collaborative. Bottner's understated text gains its power from Rathmann's emotionally compelling watercolors.

I noticed while Googling that my local school district uses Bootsie as a counseling text. It's used to understand "safety and survival skills," as well as "skills in resolving conflicts with peers and adults."

If you, as a parent, find yourself worried about what might be happening behind closed doors, or that your young child is being bullied and is too ashamed to speak about it, Bootsie Barker Bites may be the perfect book for opening a dialogue.

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