Bean (her real name is Chrysanthemum, but she refuses to use it) is a lovely story about an 8 year old girl who has a really rough first day at school. She is now in 3rd grade and she is looking forward to seeing her best friend, Carla, whom she has not seen all summer. Sadly, she discovers that her best friend is now the best friend of someone else and is ignoring her, there is a bully in class, Tanisha, who is tormenting her, and the teacher seems oblivious to her plight, she has to sit with “stinky” Stanley as a last resort, and she has no one to sit with at lunch anymore or play with at recess. She is sad and very lonely.
The reader will watch Bean as she learns how to cope with and solve her problems, makes new friends and renews old friendships, learns to respect the rights of others, and learns the value of understanding right from wrong. As she begins to understand that some kids seem different because they are sad or lonely or have health issues or a different home life than she has with her parents and sisters, she becomes kinder and more understanding and less angry. She understands that being mean is not the best way to behave and kindness is a better way to reach someone and make them your friend. No one wants to be with someone mean. She learns that sometimes acting out because you are unhappy and lonely can be fun, but it can also be dangerous and there are consequences.
Eventually, Bean learns that sometimes things don’t turn out the way you hoped they would, but with patience and kindness, problems do get resolved and you will feel better. However, you will have to make an effort also, to help yourself and work your problems out. You will have to learn from your mistakes and not repeat them and you will have to work harder to achieve what you want rather than sulk or misbehave.
This is a good book to discuss at home or in a classroom setting because the author has done a good job of presenting the issues and conflicts that face young children today as they go about their normal daily lives at home and at school. She clearly defines those, using specific examples of bullying, peer pressure, sibling rivalry, friendship issues, loneliness, teacher and parental discipline, disobedience and consequences. On the bright side, she also shows the benefits of good behavior, loyalty, forgiveness, true affection and concern for others, working together, and the experience of real happiness when we do the right thing and achieve our goals.
I didn’t like the way the Bean’s parents were developed in the story. They were too permissive and Bean seemed to lack a sense of limits on her behavior. Her two older siblings,Gardenia and Rose, the oldest of whom was in middle school, were largely responsible for her well being, and they were really not mature enough to handle the task. Bean’s dad was a music professor and her mom was a nurse. Gabrielle’s mom was over protective and Tanisha’s mom was largely absent. I thought that the teacher was not as engaged with her class and their well being as she should have been and was not aware of what went on with her students, to the point of negligence. Perhaps they were all made into caricatures of real life individuals, in order to better express the problems experienced in childhood.
The author speaks in a voice that sounds true to children and the book is probably best suited for 8-13 year olds.I believe children will readily identify with Bean (Chrysanthemum) and her sisters, Rose and Gardenia, and all the events they encounter day to day. My 13 year old grandchild read it and loved it.