Life with Darius (2009-2012), by Cynthia Stella Peters

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 18.1.

Book 1: Darius Gets Bullied
Book 2: Darius Gets Angry
Book 3: Darius Gets a Pet
Book 4: Darius Plays It Safe and Darius and His Many Different Feelings
Book 5: Darius is a Good Friend  and Darius Uses Good Manners
Book 6: Darius Practices Good Hygiene
Book 7: Darius Starts Exercising
Book 8: Darius Learns the Value of a Dollar

Peters - DariusThese books provide an obvious service in clearly presenting their topics to the young reader. The titles of the 10 stories in the series explicate the content so that the reader will know exactly what to expect: Darius Gets Bullied, for example, presents a scenario in which Darius gets bullied in a stereotypical way, responds with textbook insecurity, and in the end follows exactly the list of behaviours that adult educators expound as the right way to deal with bullies, beginning with trying to ignore the aggressor and ending with telling an adult. The problem with this scenario—a problem that is extended throughout the series—is that it merely reiterates the bullet points that teachers present to students in the classroom. Some of this advice is sound, some of it less so. That bullying is a serious issue few will dispute; how best to deal with bullying—either as adults or children—is a debate that still rages, with little consensus among experts. I could see young children reading Darius Gets Bullied and saying to themselves—as the students in a local school have recently said explicitly to the Parents’ Advisory Committee and the school administration—“That won’t work: the bullies will just get us after school” or “That won’t work, because the bullies don’t care if you punish them” or “That won’t work, because the bullies’ parents think their children are perfect.” Childhood is far more complicated than simple responses to problems such as bullying and anger management can accommodate. The stories in this series that deal with simpler issues, such as having good manners or looking after a pet, are far more effective, if a little trite.
Despite the superficial nature of these stories’ content, however, it never hurts to constantly reiterate messages to young readers: repetition will solidify the concepts in their minds. But I would wish for a more interesting narrative to do so, and more interesting images to accompany the narratives. These books—all 10 of them—are inoffensive and perhaps useful, but I don’t think many children will find them interesting or engaging. As a set, I can see them on the school councillor’s shelf, pulled out and given to students who know they will be reading a “helpful” book, restating simply the party line vis-à-vis social interactions, rather than presenting a more meaningful perspective on children’s realities.

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