Saturday, April 15, 2017

Anti-bullying book bashes Girl Scouts

I don't often write book reviews, and as a rule, I only share about books I like, but I just finished one that made me angry for Girl Scouts.

Save me a Seat by Sarah Weeks is about a boy, Ravi, who just arrived in America from India.  It is his story of trying to fit into a new culture, while overcoming obstacles and assumptions.  All in all a good story with a solid message.... until it included a little unchallenged Girl Scout bashing. 

I thought, toward the end, Sarah Weeks would redeem herself by having Dillon, the bully, apologize or having Selena, the Girl Scout, speak up for herself.  But no, it leaves the reader hearing Dillon shout that only dorks stay in Girl Scouts after 5th grade and seeing Selena blush when she admits she is a Girl Scout. No self-confidence, just blushing. 

I was never a Girl Scout, but I've been a Girl Scout mom for five years and a leader for two. I've learned through my daughters how much there is to this organization. And the girls who continue after 5th grade are rock stars! This is when the girls really develop as leaders, impact their communities, and share their skills with others.

I find it unbelievable that a book about assumptions usually being wrong and there being more to people than meets the eye would include a character like Selena and treat her so poorly. Why bother to identify her as a Girl Scout if only to bully her? 

Looking for a book that promotes empathy and discourages stereotypes? Choose something else.


  1. Dear Ms Rogers- I am one of the co-authors of SAVE ME A SEAT. Your comments deeply sadden me. Not only was I a girl scout for many years, my mother was also a girl scout leader. I still have my sash with all the badges I earned carefully sewed to it. I'm especially proud of the library badge. I have fond memories of being a girl scout, and have nothing but the utmost respect for the organization. I hope that others who read the book will take Dillon's negative comment about Celena still being a girl scout in 5th grade, in the spirit in which it was intended. Dillon is small minded - he says a lot of offensive things - none of which he apologizes for. His way of walking through the world is to insult other people to make himself feel bigger. HIs comments about Celena being a girl scout are no different than his comments about Ravi smelling of curry, or Joe being a baby because his mother worries about him being bullied. Dillon is a bully, and bullies say and do offensive things - including insulting things that my young readers care deeply about. One of the things Gita and I worked very hard to do with our book, was to expose the hidden - and sometimes NOT so hidden bias we all have toward people who are different from us. Perimma makes racist comments about Americans. Joe's father makes racist comments about immigrants. Apparently, those things were not offensive to you, but the comment about the girl scouts was. We all react when our buttons are pushed, right? SAVE ME A SEAT isn't a story about "bashing" Indians, Americans, immigrants or Girl Scouts. It was written in the hopes that it would inspire deep conversations about bias and prejudice. I know from the thousands of kids and teachers I've spoken to who have read and loved the book, that most of our readers understand who and what Dillon is. I'm sorry if the book offended you, that was certainly not our intention. We're honored that Save me a Seat is a nominee for the Hansel and Gretel Readers Choice Award and I hope that my words will be enough to change your mind about speaking out against a book whose very purpose is to address the kind of bias you feel so strongly about.


    Sarah Weeks

  2. Hi Cindy,

    I've thought a lot about your review since I read it yesterday and have wondered if I'd missed something during the times I've read Save Me A Seat to my third graders. I certainly do all that I can to "promote empathy and discourage stereotypes" and I always felt like Save Me A Seat did just that. After thinking on these things and your review, I think, with all due respect, that you missed the point of the book. My students' take away from the book is always this: people may look different and have differences but, in the end, we all need and deserve basic respect. Our small community is almost exclusively Caucasian. There are very few other ethnicities represented anywhere near here. Our kids need this book and to see a character like Ravi, who has more in common with them than they first realize.

    Save Me A Seat has always reminded me of an Amy Grant song called Turn This World Around and this line: "We are all the same it seems, behind the eyes ... all we're really looking for is somewhere safe and warm, the shelter of each other in the storm". THAT is the sentiment that the vast majority of readers take away from the book.

    As far as the Girl Scout thing, I think it's imperative to remember this: all of the insults came from Dillion Samreen. I really believe that the authors handled that character very responsibly in making all of his words and actions realistic but never glorified. Because of the masterful way the book is written, the reader knows almost from the very beginning that Dillion is an up-to-no-good bully. Kids all know someone like him (unfortunately) and they don't lend any credence to what he says or does. Save Me A Seat no more turns kids against Girl Scouts than it does turn them into thieves who put stolen goods down the front of their pants! Plus... I think the scene where Dillion gets his comeuppance at the end is the single most favorite of my students this year. :)

    I hope you'll reconsider your position on Save Me A Seat. It's winning countless awards, including the Bluestem award in my home state, and I think it's, in part, because it actually *does* "promote empathy and discourage stereotypes."


  3. Sarah,
    Perhaps you misunderstood me. I think you have crafted a very good story. The two voices give a fresh perspective to a topic that needs more attention. It is engaging and entertaining. It is a book that I could wholeheartedly support if not for the belittling comments made about Girl Scouts.

    What I object to is the inclusion of Celena as a Girl Scout. I find her character unnecessary to the plot, and I am most disturbed by the fact she has no voice. By the end of the story, the reader observes Joe and Ravi addressing most of the biases and stereotypes introduced. The different threads of resolution make it acceptable to have a different cultural background, need additional help at school, or receive extra attention from parents. But being a Girl Scout is never acknowledged as anything besides "dorky".

    Did a girl "in a dorky green uniform" need to bring Ravi's things to him at the nurse? Or could it have just been another student from the class? When Dillon mouthed off as they began to share their personal reflections, did he have to say something derogatory about Girl Scouts? If you felt he should verbally attack one of the girls, couldn't it have been for something more common, something most girls outgrow, like bringing a stuffed animal to school?

    If you felt so strongly that a Girl Scout was needed in the story, why wasn't she allowed to speak up for herself? Ravi is allowed plenty of time to explain why he brought leeches, while Celena is not given a single sentence about her choice of items. And if not Celena, perhaps her teacher could have said something positive about scouting, such as praising a recent take action project or mentioning any of our familiar female leaders who were once Girl Scouts.

    I'm angry about this because Girl Scouts this age actually face these belittling comments, and by not giving Celena a voice, you missed the opportunity to demonstrate to other girls how to respond to a bully like Dillon. I kept waiting for someone to say something, anything, and create resolution. Instead I was left feeling the sting of the derogatory words with nothing done to soften the blow as I finished the book.