Cousins of Clouds

Cousins of Clouds
Tracie's NEW BOOK!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010




Bullyville by Francine Prose
TR 978-06-057497-0 ($16.99)
LB: 978-0-06-057498-7 ($17.89)

After Bert’s Dad dies in the World Trade Center, he is offered a scholarship to Bailywell Prepatory Academy located in his hometown. Even more than its reputation for preparing the wealthy elite for the Ivy League, it is known as bully central. It lives up to its reputation. Bert is treated to an escalating number of incidences that humiliate and intimidate him by the leader of cruelty, Tyro Bergen. When Tyro crosses the line by teasing Bert about his father, he finally snaps and retaliates. The incident lands both of them in a volunteer program after school. In the end, Bert leaves Bailywell but not before being changed by its cruelty and redeemed by a most unexpected girl, the kid sister of his nemesis.

Discussion Guide:
  1. Compare Bailywell Academy, Hillbrook Middle School, and your own school. What do they have in common? How are they different? Bailywell has a reputation for its bullying. Sometimes these reputations are just urban myths and sometimes they’re deserved. How can you know the difference? Would you be willing to find out for yourself or not? Why?
  2. How do people treat Bert after September 11th in his town and in the media? What do you think would be the worst part of this experience? Do you think he and his mother should admit that his dad had already left the family? Does it add to the misery, this secret between them? Why do you think the media grasps onto stories like his?
  3. Why does Bert agree to attend the academy even though he really doesn’t want to go? Would you be willing to make this kind of sacrifice for a grieving parent? What do your parents ask or expect of you that you wish they didn’t?
  4. Do you think most kids admit to their parents about bullying problems they’re having at school or not? Why? Can parents really know what is happening at school? What can school administrators do? Do you think bullying has been tolerated more in the past or is a more contemporary epidemic? Why?
  5. Tyro Bergen gets everything and anything he wants. Have you ever known someone like this? Were they happier than other people? Do you think having everything handed to them will help them reach their goals and find success or could it somehow backfire? How does it affect Tyro’s behavior? What else influences his behavior?
  6. Why do you think bullying happens in the first place? What do the perpetrators gain over their victims? Why do you think it is more prevalent in some places than in others? Do you think it exists everywhere? What should a victim do?
  7. Bert describes the other day students on the bus like this “…looked like rabbits and chickens,… human versions of the most timid or stupid creatures in the food chain.” (p.65) Can intimidation actually change the physical appearance of a person? How? Can it alter their psychological make up as well? Did Bert start feeling a bit paranoid? Do you think these changes could become permanent?
  8. Thanksgiving is a huge reprieve for Bert because he is surrounded by those people who adore him. Describe your own family holiday traditions and what they do for you. What’s your favorite part of Thanksgiving? Bert describes his family as octopus. What animal would you use to describe your own?
  9. Would you consider Bert and his mom close? Why or why not? They watch cartoons together but he can’t seem to tell her what’s going on at school. Is this typical of teen relationships with their parents? What do you want from your parents?
  10. The text message Bert receives really is the tipping point for his anger. What does he do with all that raw emotion? What would you have done? How does the school handle the incident? How would’ve it been dealt with at your own school? Should you ever engage a bully? Why or why not?
  11. What is the hospital volunteer work like for Bert?  Do you think it’s a fair punishment for his actions? Describe Nola. Would she have been the patient you most identified with or not? Why? In the end Bert learns that she is the sister of Tyro. How does this change the dynamic between them?
  12. In the end, Bert doesn’t view himself as a victim of his year of being bullied. Is it because he got physical with Tyro or because he left the school? How would you describe the ending of the novel? Why do you think the author chose this ending?
  13. Even though Dr. Bratwurst learns of the bullying at his school he does little to change the atmosphere. How often, do you think, adults fail to protect kids from bullies? What should someone do if an adult doesn’t intervene on their behalf?

Write a journal response to the novel discussing the following questions: What experiences have you had or witnessed with bullies? How do you think schools can best protect their students from hazing or bullying? Did the novel change your perspective on this issue? How?

Creative Writing:
Write two letters- one from the perspective of Bert to Nola and another as her response. Try to capture the voice of each character and stay true to the spirit of the novel. Have students compare their letters.

Create a piece of collage art inspired by the novel. You can use images and words from the news, magazines, internet or create your own originals. You may also consider adding other objects (even three dimensional ones) such as nails, coins, wire, etc. to add texture and meaning to your piece. In a brief artist’s statement discuss your use of color, design and shape and what about the book inspired the piece.