Bully on the Bus

By Kathryn Apel
University of Queensland Press, 2014

Reviewed by Janine Kitson

This charming, sensitive, humorous, easy-to-read verse novel is about a bully on the bus who terrorises and humiliates a child, but who is finally overpowered by the victim’s persistence and courage to reject this way of behaving. The novel opens with:

She’s big.
She’s smart.
She’s mean.
She’s the bully on the bus.
She picks on me and I don’t like it.

Leroy’s challenge is to deal with DJ, a loud and obnoxious high school bully.

Beautifully written, it is a positive and affirming story about learning to cope with being bullied, finding the courage to tell an adult about it and overcoming the fear of retribution:

“If you dob,
I’m gonna get you,”
she hisses,
spraying spit
like poison
over my

Set in rural Australia, there are vignettes of country life — travelling on the school bus, cattle work and new dams in the paddock. The book shares the joyful rituals of childhood life, such as when Leroy’s mother cooks a “green-eyed monster cupcake with chocolate sprinkles, white jellybean teeth and bright green Smartie eyes”. This pleasure contrasts with the trauma of the bully stealing the cake, eating it and spitting it out the bus window.

The verse novel captures the devastation that parents feel when they discover their child has been bullied. It also shows the loving support of Leroy’s parents who proactively deal with the situation but who don’t overreact and become bullies themselves.

The novel explores the challenges that young people face as they learn to express their fears. It shows the relief when these fears are revealed.

“I wish I could forget
the sad and scary places
the bully has made
inside me”

The victim must ultimately deal with the bully and learn coping strategies such as exposing the bully, avoiding the bully, ignoring the bully, and finally confronting the bully.

The book finishes with a generously delightful affirmation that all bullies have the potential to be reformed.

This delightful verse novel is suitable for early primary. The book is available for borrowing from Federation Library.

This book is available to borrow from the Federation library.

Janine Kitson is on long service leave.

Small group/pair discussion

1. Have you ever seen a bully on the bus or at the...?
2. Why didn’t the other children on the bus stop the bully?
3. What might Leroy’s Dad have said to Mrs Wilson when he visited the school for the first time? What advice might Mrs Wilson have given?
4. What might have been the reasons for DJ becoming a bully?
5. Who might have spoken to DJ about the bullying?

Suggestions for learning activities

1. Sing “The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round”; Have a class cupcake cooking day; Choose character descriptions in the novel to illustrate, for example, the bus driver, whose hair looks like dry grass that chickens have been scratching (page 102).

2. Divide the class into groups to read fairy tales such as The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood. What can fairy tales teach about bullying?

3. Read “How to Bust a Bully” on page 98. Do further research on how to deal with bullies.

4. Design your own “How to Bust a Bully” poster, with three hints.

5. Teacher reads/enacts the story. While this is happening, teacher elicits student responses on how to respond to a bully. The teacher carefully pauses at pivotal scenes and poses predictive questions e.g. will Leroy tell his parents/ teacher about the bullying?