In Deborah Baldwin’s Bumbling Bea, Beatrice is an eighth-grade student who is excited to audition for the lead role in her school’s annual play, “John Smith and Pocahontas.” However, the new student, a girl from Japan named Michiko, lands the coveted role of Pocahontas, leaving Beatrice fuming. That’s when “Bumbling Bea,” her alter ego that makes her say and do mean things that she wouldn’t ordinarily do, appears. Beatrice and Michiko struggle to get along and settle their differences – especially when “Bumbling Bea” comes out to play.
Frankly, a lot of Beatrice’s behavior in Bumbling Bea is downright cringe-worthy, particularly when it comes to her brazen comments about Michiko and her Japanese heritage. There were many times where she toed the line between nervous babbling and unacceptable bullying, which was seldom addressed. That may not be the best way for the protagonist in a children’s novel to behave. Also, there were a few important themes that, although they could have been used to teach young readers valuable lessons, were barely touched upon in passing; these included divorce/parental separation, racism, and death. In some ways, not discussing these topics in more depth seemed a lot like Deborah Baldwin dropped the ball.
However, there are several aspects of Bumbling Bea that are wonderfully executed. One of these is the detailed introduction to theater that Deborah Baldwin provides for young readers. It serves nicely in giving children a new means of expressing themselves, one that is seldom focused on in children’s literature. Also, Bumbling Bea is a good tool to use to start a discussion with children about how their words have an impact on others. Bumbling Bea is off to a good start; however, if there are future sequels, perhaps Beatrice’s attitude should be readdressed.
Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.