4 out of 4 stars
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Out Loud by Luz Agudelo is an illustrated rhyming book with an interesting look at bullying. Two friends, one male and one female, are hanging out at the beach having fun when they hear a distressed bird calling out. They hurry over to find out what's going on but discover something far worse than they could have imagined - a trash monster! Its name is Skull and it's a snake-like creature made up of all sorts of trash that's terrorizing a poor seagull. This bully is far worse than the typical real-life bully with a flaming skull for a head and razor sharp claws. It's up to these two innocent, frightened kids to save the day!
Bullying is an epidemic in our schools and has been since before even I was in school (and that was quite a long time ago!). The problem is that teaching kids to fight back against bullying always treads a fine line between silliness that would never work and turning one's kid into a bully themselves. What I appreciated here was that Out Loud walks that line very well - it shows kids who are initially scared to stand up to the bully become confident, working together and demanding that the bully stop without insulting or physically fighting.
I also really liked the subtle nod toward polluting our beaches and oceans. A trash monster couldn't possibly exist on a beach if people didn't leave garbage all over! This point also comes into play later when Skull explains how he became a bully. This then plays into the concept that, just like superheroes, every bully has an "origin story" of what made them into the bully they are.
An illustrated book is only as good as its art, and I really loved the art in Out Loud. Each page uses notebook paper as a background and the art looks great on it. The book is illustrated by Andres Restrepo and there's even a credit for "edited illustrations" by Conzumo. It's clear the book has been touched by numerous hands and it shines because of it. Especially due to the "villain" bully, it felt as much like a comic book as a kids book.
The other main piece of the book is its rhyming. The story is broken up into free-verse stanzas that use all sorts of rhymes. Some rhyme at the end of each line, some use multiple sets and others play with in-line rhyme. The numerous types of rhyming also make the book effective for teaching the concept of rhyme. As with most rhyming writing there are several lines that feel a bit forced, but for the most part the rhymes succeed. Most importantly, though, it definitely gets the story across.
The book's Amazon page suggests it for 8-12 year olds, and I'd definitely agree with that. There is the occasional "big" word - assembled and distressed, for example - but it should be readable for most kids in that age range, especially if it's read out loud to them as the title suggests. I highly recommend it to any kid in that age range to learn about bullying, rhyming and the importance of taking care of the environment. I'd rate it 3.5 stars if I could due to the few instances of forced rhyming, but officially I rate it 4 out of 4 stars.
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