Synopses & Reviews
Mike Costa has lived his whole life in The Strip, Pittsburghs warehouse and factory district. His fathers large Italian family runs a food wholesale business, and Mike is used to the sounds and smells of men working all night to unload the trains that feed the city. But its 1933, and the Depression is bringing tough times to everyone. Money problems only add to Mikes worries about his beloved grandfather, who is getting forgetful and confused.
Mike is being tormented at school by a loud-mouth named Andy Simms, who calls Mike “Macaroni Boy.” But when dead rats start appearing in the streets, that name changes to “Rat Boy.” Around the same time Mike notices that his grandfather is also physically sick. Can whatever is killing the rats be hurting Mikes grandfather? Its a mystery Mike urgently needs to solve in this atmospheric, fast-paced story filled with vibrant period detail.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
BULLYING: A GUIDE
Macaroni Boy by Katherine Ayres
Blubber by Judy Blume
Spider Boy by Ralph Fletcher
True Blue by Jeffrey Lee
Feather Boy by Nick Springer
The books in this guide all deal with bullying. Use the questions to open discussion with your students on this important topic. Additional themes include challenges, friendships growing up, peer pressure, and self-discovery.
Bullying isnt a new problem in schools. Almost all adults will say that they either encountered or knew a bully in their childhood. Some will say they were victimized, and others will admit to being innocent bystanders. And, some may even reveal that they were bullies themselves.
No one wants to be called names or teased and taunted. No one wants to be left out of a ballgame or a school activity. No one wants their personal belongings ruined or their secrets revealed. New kids in school, and children who are different, especially mentally and physically challenged kids, are often the targets. These kids are already on the outside, and therefore vulnerable. Bullies are seeking attention and want to feel important. They feed their low self-esteem by being mean to others.
Newspapers, magazines, television and radio news are filled with incidents of schoolyard bullying. Why has bullying become such a worldwide issue in schools today? Is bullying the beginning of school violence? Whatever the reasons, schools and parents must develop ways of helping children cope with the local school bully. Children who are being bullied are often quiet about it. The bully may have threatened them if they “tattle” or they may feel embarrassed.
HOW TO RESPOND
Observant adults will notice if a child is quieter than usual, suddenly afraid of going to school, shows a drop in grades, and doesnt want to play with friends or participate in after school activities. Ask questions. Engage them in conversation about the way they are feeling. Role-play a hypothetical incident. Encourage them to talk with someone they trust. Suggest they write about their feelings in a journal. Give them books to read.
1. Ask the class to discuss what causes a person like Andy Simms to become a bully. Why is Mike Costa his special target? Why is Simms so upset that Mike follows him home? How does seeing Andys living situation help Mike to better understand him?
2. Mike has no problem coming face to face with Andy Simms. What gives him the courage to face the bully? Compare how Mike Costa deals with his bully to the way Bobby Ballenger deals with Chick Hall in Spider Boy.
3. Joseph, Mikes friend, suggests that they recruit his older brothers and Mikes uncles to go with them when they face Andy and his gang. Why doesnt Mike like the idea? Discuss whether Joseph is a coward. How and why does Mikes father support his fights with Andy?
4. Andy Simms holds the key to the mystery of why people are getting sick. Mike and Joseph plot ways to get Andy to talk. Joseph wants to beat it out of Andy, but Mike has a different theory-“If you wanted somebodys help, you had to act polite, even if he was the scum of the earth.” (p. 156) Explain how Mikes theory works with Andy.
5. Mike solves the mystery by using his head and his heart. Discuss the times when Mike uses his head? When does his heart take over? How might Mike Costa be good at conflict resolution? Andy Simms does say thank-you to Mike Costa. Why is it unlikely that they will become friends?