Book review: It's up to U!

Book of the month: August 2022 

It's Up to U!, by Jeremy Kalbstein and Leigh Brown 

Empowering Resources, 2020

Suitable for: middle and upper primary readers

Themes: Online safety, bullying, friendship, empathy, social media 

Review by Karen Rogers

According to the eSafety Commissioner (eSafety, 2020) Australian children are now using at least three different social media platforms by the time they reach high school. Despite most of these platforms having age-based access requirements, social pressure to conform results in young children interacting on these sites well before they have the maturity to negotiate them. 

It’s up to U! explores the issue of online safety and bullying in a clear but age-appropriate manner. Jeremy Kalbstein has used the letters of the alphabet to create endearing characters that reflect the social context often faced by primary school students. The protagonist ‘I’ is a quiet, reserved character who enjoys playing with others some of the time but is mostly happy being alone. I’s peaceful existence is interrupted, however, when ‘N’ posts an embarrassing image of I online. 

After a barrage of likes and hurtful comments directed towards them, I reluctantly heads back to school where they are confronted by “whispering and snickering” from their classmates. Finally, one friend ‘U’ bravely stands up online and suggests that N is being unkind and that they should remove the image. U’s unexpected bravery inspires others to unlike the image and stand up for I.  

This book deals explicitly with an issue commonly encountered by young users of social media and clearly shows the impact on victims. In addition, it acts as a model for ways to stand up against those using online platforms to hurt others. It also demonstrates the importance of forgiveness and giving a second chance when others make a mistake. 

While the text itself has an important and clear message, Leigh Brown’s illustrations are an equally powerful teaching tool. The body language, facial expressions and page layout provide an insight into the power relations, feelings and impacts of cyberbullying on all involved. Teachers could use these images as a prompt for dramatic role plays to support the building of empathy and understanding. 

It's up to U! is a valuable resource for both classroom teachers and parents that enables rich discussions about navigating the online world with kindness and with respect – for ourselves and for others. 

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