April 12, 2018

What Happens Next

Written by Susan Hughes
Illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Owlkids Books
40 pp.
Ages 4+
March 2018

Carey Sookocheff's understated illustrations may give the impression of a simple story but Susan Hughes' What Happens Next is nothing less than a compelling revelation about the secretive and debilitating nature of bullying and the sharing of an inspired strategy for resolution which begins with empathy.
From What Happens Next by Susan Hughes, illus. by Carey Sookocheff
The story of What Happens Next follows a child who is bullied by another child at school with name-calling ("Weirdo") and hurtful comments and physical acts like blocking their way and shoving at their books.  Sadly, there are children who are bystanders who either laugh or ignore the bullying.  Even though the child who is bullied has many positives at home like a playful and loving dog and a caring parent, this child carries the burden of the bullying which affects their sleep and behaviour. 
From What Happens Next by Susan Hughes, illus. by Carey Sookocheff
Finally the child, encouraged by their love of books and science, feels strong enough to share with Mom what has been going on with Bully B.
What I Say about Bully B. When Mom Comes to Kiss Me Good Night:

What Mom Says:
That I'm brave for telling her.
That she's sorry I feel scared and hurt.
That she'll help.
But it's the mother's intensity of empathetic insight that should be included in every handbook on dealing with bullies.
What Mom Says Next:
That everyone has their own way of looking at things and people.  That each person's way of looking is made up of where they're standing and how they got there.  It's made up of what's in their mind, what's in their heart, and what's in their imagination.
From What Happens Next by Susan Hughes, illus. by Carey Sookocheff
And with that, Mom shows her child that, by sharing things they like with Bully B., they may be able to help change Bully B.'s way of looking. With courage and some trepidation, and ignoring Bully B.'s habitual meanness, the child tells Bully B. about genomes, water on the Earth's surface and Earth in the orbit around the Sun.
What's Different Now:
Not everything. But enough.
In fact, I'll let you read What Happens Next for yourself to see that enough is pretty darn good.

You'll notice that Susan Hughes' text takes on a form similar to a script with bolded directives and plain-text responses that gives an organic texture to the story.  In fact, when the child is being bullied or worried about the bullying, the text is very terse, like punches.  When involved with their books and the science within, as well as when Mom shares her insight into bullying, the text is softer, like blankets.  Illustrator Carey Sookocheff's artwork reflects this imbalance through her choice of colours and simple lines and shapes.  Everything is understated from her limited palette of pale grey and yellow with white, against grey-blue, green and red-orange to her simple scenes at home and playground.  But simple here is meaningful, as substantial as a careless case of  bullying.

What Happens Next is like nothing I've ever read for opening up discussions about bullying with our youngest readers to those in middle grades. To that end, Owlkids Books has created discussion guides for using the book with children. There is one for Grades 1-3 and one for Grades 4-6 and both are available at the Owlkids Books website. I encourage everyone, from educators and school administrators to parents and child and youth care workers to make What Happens Next a part of their programming to encourage meaningful lessons and dialogue about this perennial issue.


Copies of the illustrations from within What Happens Next were retrieved from Carey Sookocheff's website, specifically at http://careysookocheff.com/what-happens-next/ on April 9, 2018, as they afford clarity of image that my own scans of the book could not.

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