What Happens Next (Susan Hughes)

Hello, friends! Our book today is What Happens Next, written by Susan Hughes and illustrated by Carey Sookocheff, a thoughtful story on bullying.

The unnamed protagonist (also cleverly portrayed as genderless) lays things out in a matter-of-fact way: “Why I Don’t Want To Go To School Today: Bully B.” Bully B. is a mean girl who teases and intimidates the protagonist, seemingly daily. “What Her Friends Do: Laugh. What Everyone Else Does: Nothing.” Sad and isolated, the victim trudges through days, taking comfort only in their science books and dog, Sparky; answering their mother’s inquiries about their day with a mumbled “Fine.” At last, the protagonist confesses the bullying, and mom responds with empathy and comfort. She presents several solutions, including one that may take a bit of courage, and a lot of understanding…

Books about bullying are hard, because each bullying situation, each bully, and each victim is so different. But that’s precisely what sets this story apart: it attempts to create connection and empathy with all parties involved. It features a main character defined by their emotions rather than physical attributes, allowing readers to easily place themselves in the subject’s shoes. It lays out facts, feelings, and dialogue in the same no-frills tone, giving equal importance to all. I loved that the mother encouraged empathy with the bully to make sense of their actions, and offered to intervene but also gave the protagonist a chance to settle the conflict themselves. Even the art plays into these themes beautifully, portraying the main character as blue and the bully green, and the rest of the world as colorless and gray during the harassment, then shifting the vibrant colors when a tentative peace is reached. It’s a quiet, reflective take on bullying, and a good way to talk to young readers – both the bullied and the bullies themselves – about its impact. Baby Bookworm approved!