“Leave Me Alone” written by Kes Gray and illustrated by Lee Wildish is a picture book that tackles a controversial subject in our schools: bullying. A young boy who is being bullied is approached by eight animals that can sense his sadness: a fly, frog, robin, cat, rabbit, cow, and Magpie. The little boy tells them they won’t be able to help because his problem is too big. He is being bullied by a giant. However, the animals stay with the boy and when the giant arrives, the animals all shout together “Leave him alone.” The combined force of the animals standing up for their friend persuades the giant to leave and of course, he never comes back.
The picture book is a magical tale of what can happen when children have the support of friends when facing someone who is bullying them.
The story is told from the point of view of the young boy and is written in rhymed couplets, One by one, the animals come up to offer comfort to the boy, but he tells them each to leave him alone.
“Leave me alone,” I said.
“Sorry,” said the pig.
“But problems should be talked about,
Especially if they’re big.”
The illustrations by Lee Wildish enhance the text and offer the opportunity to develop children's emotional intelligence and in particular understanding of the emotions and feelings of others. The cover page of the picture book shows a young boy sitting alone on a hill. Wildish is able to capture the sadness the young boy is feeling through the boy’s expression, and the colours he uses on the boy’s face. The boy’s face is slightly red as if he has been crying, or recently embarrassed. Through detailed illustrations, Wildish is also able to capture the sadness that each of the animals feels when they see the young boy sitting alone on the hill. Over a two-page spread Wildish draws all the animals sympathetically staring at the young boy as they surround him on the hill.
Wildish’s artwork also supplies a substantial amount of drama. When the Giant appears in the story, the shadowy figure soon takes over the hill and is “so big he blocks the sun”. Wildish draws him as a dark figure with fiery eyes who is casting a huge shadow over the hill. The bully is so big that he causes the ground to shake, which is also brilliantly illustrated by Wildish over a two-page spread. The giant is, in fact, portrayed as an enormous, hulking monster, backlit by a blazing sun, who lumbers toward the group, eyes glowing red. Again, the visual representation of a child’s feelings is wonderful here. Wildish has made use of texture, scratchy lines, splatters and the use of size and perspective to convey emotion.
When the Giant finally reaches the young boy he is so big that the reader can only see his feet, but stretched across the page are giant words that say “LEAVE HIM ALONE”. In this illustration the reader sees the back of the animals who are yelling those words, which allows the reader to also feel like they are standing up to the bully. With “eight voices” standing up for the young boy, the Giant with the fiery red eyes retreats down the hill. After the Giant is gone the illustrations include bright colours as the animals and young boy jumping for joy.
Whilst the message may be over-simple and a little unrealistic 'tell those that bully you to leave you alone and they will', there are many 'lessons' that can be learnt from reading and discussing the story with young children. It provides a real context for teachers to raise and discuss the issue of bullying with children in early years settings and Key Stage 1 and in that sense a 'safe' way to approach this sensitive subject. It contains many of the key messages that are advocated by the anti-bullying alliance: tell someone, keep close to friends, if you see someone being bullied stand by them, and for that reason would prove to be a good stimulus for anti-bullying week.