Book Review: Trouble Talk

by Trudy Ludwig
Reading Level: Grades 1–4

New student Bailey bursts onto the scene at Hoover Elementary. She’s fun and lively, and at first Maya enjoys her friendship with her. But after a while, Maya becomes uncomfortable with Bailey’s insensitive ways. At a slumber party, Bailey prefaces an insult to another friend with “No offense, but…” Later, she embarrasses and angers friends on the playground by sharing secrets. Finally, when she spreads an untrue rumor about Maya’s parents divorcing, Bailey has gone too far.

Maya turns to the school counselor for help. This wise woman identifies Bailey’s conduct as “trouble talk,” and gives examples of this behavior: “[s]preading rumors, saying hurtful things, and sharing information that isn’t hers to share.” She recognizes that Maya, as a bystander to Bailey’s trouble talk, is “stuck in the middle, feeling pushed and pulled in a friendship tug-of-war.” They discuss what Maya herself can do to handle the problem, and the counselor promises to work with Bailey to find ways to be healthier in her relationships. This thoughtful and thorough adult also commits to speaking to the rest of the kids about not spreading rumors, thus tackling the issue on all fronts, rather than placing blame or responsibility on one individual.

Maya decides to keep her distance from Bailey, and makes a point of changing the subject when trouble talk arises, refusing to pass on rumors, and hanging out with friends who make her feel safe. At the conclusion, Bailey is showing signs of changing her ways, and Maya is contemplating the possibility of one day being able to trust her again.

Social and Emotional Lessons in Trouble Talk

Trudy Ludwig, acclaimed author of My Secret Bully and Just Kidding, hits the mark again with Trouble Talk. Her picture books about coping in the social world are deeply rooted in real life for children today. A foreword by Dr. Charisse L. Nixon, co-author of Girl Wars, introduces the idea that people can meet their universal need for a sense of belonging in constructive or destructive ways. Gossip can make one feel important and connected to others. It can also ruin relationships. Ludwig’s solution-based book deals with the subject even-handedly, showing how complex the situation is for Maya and offering realistic and effective responses. An appendix by the author provides an excellent starting point for classroom dialogue, with a note to the teacher or parents, discussion questions for readers, and resources for further reading and research. Some additional questions to ponder:

  • The very first Steps to Respect lesson teaches students that “friendship begins with respect.” Does Bailey respect her friends? Does Maya respect Bailey?
  • Bystanders can be part of the solution to bullying and relational aggression. What happens when bystanders remain silent?
  • Are the people who spread rumors the only ones with the power to control those rumors?