Polly and Buster: The Wayward Witch & the Feelings Monster
Publisher: First Published in Australia June 2017 by Hardie Grant Egmont.
Published in the US: 2019 by Kane Miller, a division of EDC Publishing
Number of Pages: 280Source: Review copy provided by the Publisher
Opening Lines: "Polly Proggett is terrible at spells, which is rather unfortunate when you're a witch."
The weather has been getting much colder so when a request came in to read a story about a young witch and monster who are friends, I eagerly jumped at the chance.
Polly and Buster are next-door neighbors and secretly the bestest of friends. Which wouldn't be a problem if witches and monsters were supposed to be friends, but they aren't. Even their parents have been discouraging them from playing together, so most of the time Buster and Polly don't say anything to one another. On the way to school, Buster sits at the back of the bus and Polly sits with the witches upfront. If they ever cross paths, they ignore each other and keep right on walking. Yet, every day after school they still meet at the top of their favorite tree to reminiscence about their day. Buster doesn't tease Polly about messing up her spells and Polly is comforting for Buster, he can truly express his feelings with her. Feelings that cause him to grow when he's happy and shrink when he's sad. Feelings that seem to match what Polly is feeling.
Then one day Polly's class takes a trip to the art gallery. At first, things are going well, Polly and the most popular girl in her class, Malorie seem to be hitting it off talking about drawing and art. But then they run into Buster's class. Buster is so surprised to see Polly that he forgets the rule of ignoring each other and waves excitedly while calling out Polly's name. At first, Polly tries to ignore Buster, pretending she doesn't see or hear him, which only leads to his feelings getting hurt. When Buster's feelings are hurt, he starts to shrink and his classmates begin to notice and start to tease him. Polly becomes so angry by their teasing that she surprisingly unleashes a protective spell, stunning everyone including Polly. She's never cast a spell before. Malorie believes that Polly's spell was actually to protect her from the monsters and she begins to tell everyone how Polly saved her from the terrible mean monster. This leads to a huge misunderstanding between witches and monsters. What is Polly to do now? Should she tell everyone that monsters aren't mean, should she tell everyone that she and Buster are really friends?
Polly and Buster weren't supposed to be friends on account of monsters and witches not getting along. But their friendship just tugs at your heartstrings. Polly is insecure about her inability to cast spells, she seems to believe that the reason the words swim across the page for her is due to not focusing as hard as the rest of her classmates. As a speech pathologist, it was pretty clear to me that she's dyslexic, but for a young reader, this wasn't really explained as clearly as I would've hoped. Maybe this is addressed in the next book, but I really wished that she would've received some help from her teacher Miss Spinnaker, who reads as a kind and understanding teacher and would've been the perfect person to help Polly with her dyslexia.
And Buster, the kind-hearted feelings monster who illustrates that having and expressing feelings are okay. That being teased and bullied is not okay and the importance of standing up for your friend. Although Polly initially was lured by the promise of friendship with one of the popular kids, she begins to realize that Buster's is a friendship worth fighting for.
Not only is the story a testament to the power of friendship and the importance of standing up for one another, it also weaves in some pretty heavy topics from the times of segregation and during World War II when the Jewish people were persecuted and forced to wear identifying badges. Rippin does present these with great care and gears them toward the attended audiences age. I can really see the story being used for classroom discussions on these topics. Happily, the author and publisher have included numerous discussion questions, teacher tips and games, and activities on their website for teachers to use in conjunction with telling the story. I'm looking forward to reading Polly and Buster and The Mystery of the Magic Stones next.