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The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 6-9), with illustrations by Patrice Barton, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.


The Invisible Boy book cover
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig with illustrations by Patrice Barton, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Parents, how many times have you volunteered in your child’s school and noticed an invisible boy? They’re not easy to see, I know. Like Brian, the main character in Ludwig’s touching and thoughtfully written new picture book, The Invisible Boy, they fly under the radar in schools all over the world.

Illustrator Barton’s drawn Brian in muted grays and white although everyone else is in color. Unlike Brian’s imaginative artwork (wonderfully rendered in kid-style by Barton) depicting Super Brian, he’s not a superhero “with the power to make friends” wherever he goes. Nope. Kids like Brian are the last ones chosen for sports teams, they don’t get invited to parties, in fact other kids don’t even think of the Brians as having feelings. They’re often overlooked in the classroom because they’re quiet and so well-behaved. Typically the teacher has to devote his or her time to dealing with the whiners and the yellers.

The Brians in schools everywhere tend to slip between the cracks like the Brian in this tale. So when a new boy named Justin comes to school and eats Bulgogi with chopsticks, he’s a perfect target for ridicule by the others. “There’s No Way I’d eat Booger-gi” says one nasty kid who, of course, gets a laugh. I thought I’d cry when Ludwig wrote of Brian, “He sits there wondering which is worse – being laughed at or feeling invisible.”

And while Brian may frequently get ignored, he’s smart. So smart that he puts a note in the cubby of new boy Justin, with a drawing of himself eating Bulgogi, “Yum!” The two boys hit it off at recess, but it’s clear Justin’s already made another friend, Emilio, who says it’s his turn to play tetherball. But Justin is kind and doesn’t leave to play with Emilio without first complimenting Brian’s artwork. When Brian wants to partner with Justin on a special project, Emilio holds Justin back. “I’m already with Justin,” says Emilio. “Find someone else.” I could feel my grin spreading when the image of Brian begins to shift from grays and white to greens and blues when Justin tells him the teacher says the special project group can have three people in it. As the friendship grows, and Emilio accepts Brian, too, a once lonely boy becomes visibly happy and colorful.

The Invisible Boy includes important back matter with questions for discussion that parents and teachers can use to prompt kids about the topic of bullying. There’s also recommended reading for adults and kids. With bullying being so prominent in the news, it’s great to have a resource like The Invisible Boy to enlighten youngsters about the pain and heartache of being ignored or ostracized.

  • 2013 Junior Library Guild Selection
  • Starred Review, School Library Journal
  • Featured in USA Today
  • Back-to-School Read Pick by Scholastic Instructor
  • 2013 NAPPA Gold Medal Winner



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The Last Laugh

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The Bookworm ($9.95, Karadi Tales, Ages 5 and up) is a story about an Indian boy named, Sesha, who loves to read. In fact he has his head in a book so often that other children his age rarely see his face. His classmates tease him and laugh at him every day, and they even write a song about him. . .

“Strange silent Sesha, his nose in his book,
Doesn’t give anyone else a look,
Bet his mum doesn’t know what his face looks like,
Bet his dad hasn’t seen him since he was a little tyke! . . .”

Sesha just keeps to himself and tries to ignore the comments and giggles of the others. He’d rather read and write down his thoughts in his little brown notebook he takes with him everywhere. Well one rainy day, some bullies in his class trip Sesha, causing him and his precious notebook to fall to the ground and get all muddy.  Those bullies laugh and laugh, and naturally this is traumatizing for poor Sesha. But later in class something happens that makes the other students – including the bullies –  realize that Sesha has something important they wish they had.

I absolutely love the glorious collage and ultra colorful watercolor illustrations by Shilo Shiv Suleman, and thoroughly enjoyed how much they enhance this story.

Stories about nerdy kids and bullies are not uncommon. But this picture book is unique in that it broaches the subject of bullying to the youngest readers without preaching. Rather, through carefully selected prose by author LaVanya R.N., the youngest readers are able to relate to the protagonist and learn that it is wrong to tease others for being different. Even better yet, this book shows us all that being smart and well-read is a powerful thing.

In the end of this book, guess who has the last laugh?

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade.

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