The book: “The Back Seat (Senik, 2023),” seeks to spread awareness about bullying and how it affects friendships. Mathew Oseni, the young author, equally wrote the book for children six to 18 years.
In this six-chapter book, we are introduced to ten-year-old Noah, a fifth grader in a town called Servile.
Our first glimpse of him tells us that he is lonely in his new class without his old friends, Kyle, Vanessa and Chase. We read in the book about the feeling of lonely emptiness of our protagonist, Noah. Through the author’s adoption of the first person narrative technique, the reader is able to possess the mind of Noah, digging into his perception of his friends’ aloofness, and a strange feeling that his circle of friends is falling apart. Noah’s loneliness in this book is also compounded by his parents’ ritual of quarrel. Each time he arrives home from school, he is greeted by his parents’ shouting bouts. And they seem not to have any time for parent-child engagement.
Then Noah meets Junior, a classmate. Junior is a silent, mysterious boy who likes to sit in the back of the class, isolated. Noah joins Junior in the back seat of the class, and they start a friendship, right there in class. But a significant encounter happened. Mr. Lopez, their class teacher, notices that Noah and Junior are not paying attention to the lesson. He warns them to pay attention because they would be writing a test in a few weeks, but Mr. Lopez is interrupted by Junior. He asks the teacher to be quiet! It turns out that Junior is a bully; a bad boy.
Characteristic of bullies especially in both primary and secondary schools around the world – Nigeria inclusive, Junior starts harassing other children during break time, but claims they asked him to do it, when he is questioned by Noah. Then he introduces Noah to the trade of also running after other children and calling them names.
One day, Noah’s old friends warn him of the danger of being a friend to Junior. Kyle tells him: “You shouldn’t be friends with Junior, he manipulates people into doing bad things.” (P22) And Chase corroborates him by saying, “I don’t care if you believe me or not but just know that Junior isn’t what you think he is.” (P23) But Noah would have none of those. He simply walks out on them and into class to begin the day’s class.
However, the nagging warning of his old friends is not enough to make him see that he is being manipulated by Junior, who has now started threatening him to abandon his old friends. Well, Noah gets insight into the real person that Junior is – a bully. But Junior is now found out, and he turns his anger on Noah. But Noah is bold enough to rebuff the threat. He is also humble enough to apologise to his friends for ignoring their warning all the while.
The work, The Back Seat is a six-chapter children’s book written from an innocent point of view, but quite revealing. It is a story that discusses bullying among children and its effects on their relationships with others around them. Indeed, the work gives both young and old readers the biography of a bully as a manipulator, and someone who likes to deny the very act of bullying. Also, the book throws up to a large extent how a lack of parent-child engagement in the home bores a hole into the heart of children with heavy burdens which they cannot share with their parents. It is a book that children, parents, teachers and child psychologists should read. And the author’s use of simple language makes this illustrated children’s book accessible to all book lovers.
. Olatunbosun is a broadcast journalist and fact-checker at Splash FM 105.5, Ibadan. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org and on X: @miketunbosun.