Book Review: My Secret Bully

by Trudy Ludwig
Reading Level: Grades 1–4

The narrator of My Secret Bully, Monica, doesn’t waste any time. On the very first page, she reveals that she has a secret bully named Katie. And the next sentence sums up the crux of relational aggression, or emotional bullying: “A lot of people would be surprised to know this because they think she’s my friend.”

Monica relates a series of recent incidents with Katie, who has been her friend since kindergarten, that leave Monica confused and hurt. Among other things, Katie whispers about Monica to groups of mutual friends, calls her “Mon-ICK-a,” tells her who she should and shouldn’t play with, ignores her, and intentionally leaves her out of activities.

And although Monica does all the right things to deal with it—like calling Katie to talk about it, and then talking to her babysitter about it—they don’t work, and Monica ends up thinking, “Maybe there was something wrong with me.”

It isn’t until Monica ends up asking to stay home from school for the third day in a row that her mom finally gets her to reveal her “bullying secret.” Monica is relieved that her mom truly hears her (“she really listened to me”) and doesn’t make light of her concerns. Instead of telling Monica she’s overreacting or imagining it, her mom helps her solve her problem.

Social and Emotional Lessons in My Secret Bully

Ludwig’s first-person narration and Abigail Marble’s simple but expressive watercolor illustrations reveal a problem that has no clear cause and is not easily solved. Monica never does figure out why her friend Katie turns into her secret bully, and while some readers may find that unsatisfying, it is certainly realistic.

Monica’s mom is what most parents aspire to be: calm and resourceful, with the time, patience, and knowledge to say and do exactly the things her daughter needs to solve a painful and confusing problem. She assures her daughter that she is not alone (even revealing, to Monica’s surprise, that she had the same problem as a kid). She even role-plays with Monica, pretending to be Katie so that her daughter can “practice out loud what I wanted to say to her, without sounding like a bully myself.”

The ultimate solution to Monica’s problem seems a bit quick and simple—all she has to do to make the bullying stop for good is to look Katie “straight in the eyes” and say, “‘Does it make you feel good to make me feel bad? Because friends don’t do that to friends.’” But if real-life relational aggression takes a bit more work to stop, at least Ludwig gives the reader an excellent and practical starting point. At the end of My Secret Bully, Ludwig explains relational bullying, its signs, and its solutions to parents and teachers; a list of steps that a bullying target can take; discussion questions; and additional resources, including recommended books about bullying for kids and adults.

Most encouraging of all is the turnaround Monica experiences in her self esteem. By the end of the book, she has learned what all children should know: “Now that the secret’s out, I don’t feel bad anymore. It’s nice to know that whatever I do, I’m going to be just fine!”

Writing Activity for My Secret Bully

Choose one of the writing prompts below and write a few sentences responding to it in your journal or on a fresh piece of paper. If other people will be reading this, don’t use names. Teachers: Encourage students to use prosocial, non-bullying language and solutions in their writing.

Writing prompts (choose one):

  • Imagine you’re Sarah. What would you say to Katie and Monica so that Monica would feel included in your game?
  • Imagine you’re Katie. Write down five reasons why you’re bullying Monica.
  • Monica goes to her mother to help her solve her problem with Katie. List three other adults Monica could go to, and why.
  • Monica’s mom says she had a secret bully when she was a kid, too. Write a short story about what happened to Monica’s mom.
  • Imagine you’re Katie. Write a letter to Monica apologizing for bullying her.

Buy now! My Secret Bully