Bad Astrid

Image of Bad Astrid
Release Date: 
May 28, 2013
Random House Books for Young Readers
Reviewed by: 

"Weak try. Questionable delivery. Wrong message."

I hate to slam a picture book. After all, they're for children, and children are sweet, right?

In Bad Astrid, the protagonist is a devil child. She dismembers her stuffed animals, pulls the hair from her dolls, bosses around the movers, wreaks havoc on the neighborhood, destroys property, and menaces other children.

In other words, she's a bully of the worst order.

And in Bad Astrid, the author, Eileen Brennan, suggests that a child (okay, a dog) who is this out of control is self-aware enough to state that she does all this because she knows she "just wanted attention, I guess."

Well, duh. But that's an adult perspective. From a child's perspective, a bully is frightening, damaging to self-esteem, and dangerous. And the dismembering? Well, that's all fun and games when it happens to inanimate objects, but . . .

Then the author goes on to state that all Bad Astrid really needed was disarming with a little kindness. Really? How about a dressing down? Better parenting? Intervention? A little lesson-learning? Something more effective before she really hurts someone or, ten years down the road, ends up in juvenile detention?

Now I agree that bullies can be disarmed. I've done it myself in eighth grade when confronted by a gang that just didn't like me for no apparent reason other than that I existed. And I've done it as an adult by charming a publishing company CEO who was notorious for his Janus-like temper tantrums and abusive treatment of employees. But disarming a bully does not mean that they stop bullying. It just means that maybe they stop bullying you. They usually continue with others who are weaker or too timid to stand up for themselves. Or too afraid. So is the message in this book even realistic, much less actionable?

Is it a good message for kids who might actually be facing a bully?

And let's not even discuss the fact that the author chose to use Seussian meter with which to deliver the message. Dr. Seuss books have succeeded for decades upon decades, but is there no other rhymed alternative that is a tad less derivative?

The illustrations in Bad Astrid are cute. There's a positive note. But they are not all that fresh, either.

All in all? Weak try. Questionable delivery. Wrong message.