Disclosure: Thank you to Epic Press/Essence Publishing for providing me with a complimentary copy of Ella Builds a Wall for this review. This post contains affiliate links; learn more here. As always, all opinions included here are mine alone.
My kids started back to school this week, which means my family has been immersed in a whirlwind of adjusting to new schedules and teachers, reconnecting with friends the kids hadn’t seen all summer, and remembering things like how to pack a lunch and bring homework home each night. It’s been an exhausting week—for all of us!
Before the school year started, though, I made sure to connect with my kids about the expectations my husband and I have for them (e.g., do well in school, be a good friend, listen to your teachers, speak up if you see someone in need) as well as their concerns for the year (homework topped the list). I see these back-to-school conversations as a good time to check-in with my son and daughter about the qualities my husband and I want them to possess—being kind, truthful, and thoughtful—and to remind them about the importance of telling my husband or me when they bothered or concerned about something.
Over the years, I’ve discovered a few ways to get my kids talking. The first is a long walk; wandering around the neighborhood with nothing to do but move our bodies gets my kids chatting away. The second is my go-to strategy: kid’s literature; I supplement our conversations with a kids’ book about a topic that’s on our minds.
Since kindness—to others and ourselves—has been of particular importance lately, before the school bell rang, I pulled out Ella Builds a Wall, written by Ruth McKeague and illustrated by Sarah Alsharifi. This book was sent to me to review with my children, and it was a great jumping off point for conversations about bullying and bravery.
In Ella Builds a Wall, which has been written for children aged seven to nine, a young girl named Ella is bullied by Brody, an angry classmate. Upset that Brody has hurt her, Ella turns to karate as a means to work out her frustration about the bullying and to give herself the confidence and skills to stand up for herself. Along the way, she learns that she hasn’t been the only target of Brody’s bullying, and that is capable of defending herself and her new friend, Sarah, against further attacks. Here’s an introduction to the book by the author, Ruth McKeague:
My eight-year-old daughter connected with Ella Builds a Wall when we read it together. She asked a number of questions about the book, and we had a serious conversation about what drives people to bully others, times she’s seen kids be unkind to one another at school, and what she has done and can do about it. One of her more interesting questions was what does it mean to build a wall? In Ella Builds a Wall, the “walls” are metaphorical: they are what protects us from the anger of others or what isolates us from connections with others. Ella works hard to turn “wall-building” into something that gives her strength, and my daughter and I talked about how that can be hard to do—but nevertheless how important it is to keep trying.
As a parent, I am aware that getting my kids to talk to me about what’s on their minds—especially as they get older—is a priority. I was therefore appreciative that Ella Builds a Wall kicked off an opportunity to dive deep into issues of respect and strength, bullying and friendship.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Recommendation: Ella Builds a Wall is a good choice for parents or guardians seeking to engage their children in a talk about bullying, including if you suspect your child is being bullied. It also does a nice job showing how to problem-solve being bullied (e.g., Ella talks to her teachers about the bullying and takes karate lessons), which drives home the idea the recipients of bullying have inner strength that can be tapped.