B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy)

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BUG Big Ugly Guy book coverWhat the Book is About:

Twelve-year-old Sammy Greenberg is a natural bully magnet: he’s a Jewish smart-aleck with a strong sense of justice and a penchant for complicated vocabulary. When he gets his head stuffed down a toilet for the seventh time and some kids beat up his best friend, Sammy decides to take matters into his own hands, so he creates his own protection. With Gully the Golem as his personal bodyguard, Sammy feels safer at school, but eventually he discovers that fighting violence with violence is a riskier strategy than he could have anticipated. Over the course of this fresh and offbeat story by the prolific Jane Yolen (and her son, Adam Stemple), Sammy plays some great klezmer, embraces his own quirkiness, and learns the power of friendship.  

Jewish Content and Values

  • Chaim, a former scientist for Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency) and now rabbi and bar mitzvah tutor, tells the boys about Rabbi Judah Loew, creator of the legendary Golem of Prague.
  • Sammy and his friends form a garage band playing their own interpretation of klezmer music. A glossary at the end defines the Yiddish and Hebrew vocabulary words and Jewish cultural references are found throughout the story.  
  • Sammy shares the biblical story of Samson and describes his tzedakah (charity) project to friends and family as he becomes a bar mitzvah at the end of the story.

Positive Role Models

  • Sammy is a clever and musical young man with a fully developed social conscience. He creates the golem in an effort to protect himself but soon understands the danger inherent in a being that cannot intuit right from wrong. He matures throughout the story and eventually makes the right choice in a kind and sensitive way.
  • Julia and Skink are loyal friends who defy race and gender stereotypes with style and support Sammy through a tough middle school environment.
  • Rabbi Chaim is an ex-Mossad scientist who encourages Sammy to make good choices and eventually steps in to save him from a difficult situation. He extends a warm welcome to Skink, an African American-Korean boy and teaches both boys to read Hebrew.  

Content Advisory

This book portrays violence and bullying in a negative way. While the overall theme does address the serious consequences of violence and bullying, several somewhat disturbing episodes are described: Sammy’s head is shoved down a toilet bowl; his best friend is jumped by bullies and beaten up; and a dead coyote, possibly the victim of violence, is found. At the end of the story, there is a fight at school that leaves some kids unconscious and bleeding.  

Talk it Over

When Skink found himself in the hospital bruised and beaten, he refused to tell his father or the police who had hurt him, pretending that he didn’t recognize James Lee and the Boyz. He was afraid that his father would take the law into his own hands and go after the bullies himself. Do you think he made the right choice?  

More for You

Klezmer is an Eastern European folk music style that was popular at Jewish celebrations during the nineteenth century. Mostly played by itinerant musicians, the style found its way to America in the early 1900s and evolved throughout the decades. Today, klezmer music represents the soundtrack of Yiddish culture and its lively rhythm has influenced music all across the spectrum, from rock to show tunes to jazz and religious melodies.   

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