Bullying is a serious issue. It may cause depression, anxiety, stress, and even death. No longer is it considered an acceptable childhood rite of passage.
I discussed this subject recently with Rene Micka, author of the book “Charlie’s Birthday Wish.” Her book discusses bullying from the point of view of the antagonist, an approach she believes is not taken up enough.
Micka believes that like most behaviors, bullying has a root—which we need to get to the bottom of—and the best way to fight bullying is by promoting kindness. (She’s a fan of the website Thinkkindness.org)
Micka feels that bullies generally are not concerned with others’ feelings and don’t see the consequences of their actions. In her book, wanting to show that bullies can learn empathy, she has the bully learn how to forgive himself and see that friendships must be earned.
She sees her book and others like it as tools to elicit necessary conversation on the subject.
I agree with Micka. As Aristotle wrote, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
Reading is a powerful tool for learning how to deter bullying. Children can learn to appreciate perspectives different from their own in a safe environment. That is, emotional intelligence can be taught just like any other subject.
Here are some books that I recommend for children to read. I picked those that address bullying from different angles and emphasize positive responses.
Bullying Versus Teasing
The distinction between bullying and teasing can be confusing to adults as well as children. In the “Tease Monster,” author Julia Cook makes this distinction by having the child examine the motive of the teaser.
Cook says that if the teaser is trying to be mean, then that is bullying. In teasing, on the other hand, the teaser is just helping with a problem in a humorous way and is trying to make a connection to create a closer relationship. It is positive.
At the end of this book, there is a page for parents and educators to help the child with this sensitive topic.
Although Cook makes terrific points, it is my feeling that caution needs to be used. If a child being teased doesn’t like it, the motivation of the teaser sometimes doesn’t matter. When I taught, if there was ever a doubt about the reason for teasing, I would paraphrase Mark Twain and say, “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.”
Other books on this subject for older children are “My Secret Bully” (for girls) and “Just Kidding” (for boys). Both books show children that even a friend can be a bully.
Books From the Bullies’ Point of View
As stated earlier, for younger children there is the wonderful book “Charlie’s Birthday Wish” by Rene Micka on this subject.
Then there is “The Ant Bully” by John Nickle. This is the story of Lucas, who is picked on by the neighborhood bully Sid. Lucas in turn picks on ants. The ants decide they have had enough and shrink Lucas down to their size. Lucas learns his lesson, and Sid also is shrunk at the end of the book. What might follow is left to the reader’s imagination.
There is also the book “Each Kindness” by Jacqueline Woodson. Maya tries to play with Chloe and her friends, but they reject her. After Chloe’s teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe realizes that she should reach out to Maya. However, it is too late. Maya has moved away, and Chloe is left feeling guilt and regret.
“Confessions of a Former Bully” by Trudy Ludwig tells what happens to Katie from “My Secret Bully.” It shows Katie changing her attitude and her behavior as she starts understanding how destructive bullying is.
Books From the Point of View of Being Bullied
“Oliver Button Is a Sissy” by Tomie De Paola shows that gender stereotypes are not always true. In fact, they can be hurtful. Oliver likes to do things that most boys don’t. The book shows how Oliver suffers when he is made fun of, but Oliver is not deterred from his passions. Oliver’s classmates come to accept him after seeing what a fine tap dancer he is.
“In Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon” by Patty Lovell, Molly refuses to allow a bully’s taunts to change her positive feelings about herself. She remembers what her grandma told her, “Believe in yourself and the world will believe in you too.”
It works, and at the end of the book, the bully wants to be friends with Molly.
In “King of the Playground” by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, children are shown that sometimes they can think their way out of bad situations.
Finally, there is “Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun: Having the Courage to Be Who You Are” by Maria Dismondy. Lucy earns the respect of a bully by treating him kindly.
Bystanders Can Make a Difference
Bullying almost never happens when adults are watching, but it does happen frequently in front of peers. Children need to know that they have some control over the situation, and that is why books that show bystanders making a difference are so important.
“In Stick and Stone” by Becky Ray McCain, round Stone is a “zero” and tall, skinny Stick is a “one”; they come together to form “a perfect 10.” This perfect friendship begins when Stick sticks up for Stone when bully Pinecone makes an appearance.
In “Nobody Knew What to Do: A Story About Bullying” by Becky Ray McCain, a boy witnesses bullying and, despite being very afraid, overcomes his fear to tell his teacher what is going on.
In “The Juice Box Bully: Empowering Kids to Stand Up for Others” by Bob Sornson and Maria Dismondy, children are empowered to do the right thing by a promise that they made to their teacher.
Others Ways to Help
Since bullying can start at a young age, before school begins, parents and later teachers can discuss the topic after reading these kinds of books to further enhance a child’s understanding of this serious topic.
Finally, I recommend having children play the board game “Chutes and Ladders.” The adult can point out that we don’t always have control over our life. The winner is determined by the roll of the dice. But situations come up in life daily where we need to make the right choice, and bullying is not one of those choices.
As Micka said in her interview, “Children need to read books about bullying all year long and not just in October, the Bully Awareness Month. Books can help with this problem so much.”
Linda Wiegenfeld is a retired teacher. Please send any comments or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org