“Another thing I think about names is that they DO hurt. They hurt because we believe them. We think they are telling us something true about ourselves, something other people can see even if we don’t.” — James Howe in The Misfits
GREAT READ-ALOUDS THAT DEAL WITH BULLYING
Estes, Eleanor. The Hundred Dresses. Ages 7-10. This timeless little novel remains one of the most powerful explorations of bullying in children’s literature. First published in 1944, Estes sets her story in a cliquish, Waspy little town. Wanda Petronski is from a family of Polish immigrants. She has a strange name. She wears the same clean but faded blue dress to school every day. After Wanda confides to popular Peggy that she has 100 dresses, she gets taunted daily. Then one day, she’s gone. Her father informs the school they’re moving to the big city, where plenty of people have “funny” names. Yet another surprise comes when Wanda’s lovely drawings of 100 dresses win the school art contest. The girls, even queen bee Peggy, regret their behavior, but it is too late to make amends. Especially moving is the response of Maddie, the bystander too afraid to intervene. Maddie reaches the decision that she will never again remain silent while someone gets bullied in her presence. Since research indicates that most children tend to be bystanders, it is important to teach them to stand up for what’s right, even (or especially) when it means contradicting the “in” crowd.
Polacco, Patricia. The Junkyard Wonders. Philomel, 2010. Drawing on her own experiences as a dyslexic child, Polacco tells how young Tricia landed in the “junkyard” class for kids who had learning differences. The children were taunted and ridiculed and felt like cast-offs, but their wise and nurturing teacher, Mrs. Peterson, saw their gifts and helped them realize their potential. The story, while lengthier than most picture books, has plenty of conflict and action and can easily be read in two sessions. Allow time to discuss the need to value each person and to resist judging on the basis of appearances. Then share Polacco’s concluding note, in which she reveals the stellar achievements of her “junkyard” classmates.
More picture books that explore bullying:
- Anholt, Laurence. Camille and the Sunflowers: A Story About Vincent van Gogh. Barron’s, 1994. Ages 6-8. A boy and his family befriend the lonely painter who has a unique perspective.
- Bateman, Teresa. The Bully Blockers Club. Ages 5-7. Lottie is tired of being bullied, so she starts a club where everyone is welcome.
- dePaola, Tomie. Trouble in the Barkers’ Class. Ages 5-7. When the new girl acts like a bully, the students try talking to her and ignoring her until she finally figures out a better way to treat others. Also, see dePaola’s Oliver Button Is Not a Sissy.
- DiSalvo, Dyanne. Spaghetti Park. Ages 7-9. A community unites to fix up their park and manages to persuade the bullies to join them.
- Fierstein, Harvey. The Sissy Duckling. Ages 5-8. Elmer’s interests are different from the other male ducks. His father doesn’t sympathize, and after getting bullied at school, Elmer decides to run away from home. After Elmer saves his father’s life and looks after him until he’s well again, the father realizes he should be proud of his brave son.
- Fleischman, Paul. Weslandia. Ages 7-10. The neighborhood kids torture Wesley for being different, but in time they learn to appreciate his ingenuity, as he creates his own wild and wondrous civilization.
- Howe, James. Pinky and Rex and the Bully. Ages 6-8. Short chapter book, easily read in two sessions. Pinky got his nickname because his favorite color is pink. When boys at school tease him because of that, he initially tries to change his ways. But a kind, elderly neighbor helps him realize how important it is to be true to yourself. This engaging story presents great opportunities to discuss bullying and gender-based stereotypes.
- Howe, James. Horace and Morris But Mostly Dolores. Atheneum, 1999. Ages 6-8. Three mice friends learn it’s more fun to include others than to exclude them.
- Kellogg, Steven. Island of the Skog. Puffin, 1993. This is a must-read picture book that can be appreciated and discussed on many levels. A group of mice, tired of living in fear, sail off to find a peaceful home. They land on an island inhabited by one skog. That’s when fear and conflict creep in again. Discuss how the mice approached the creature and how they could have made better choices.
- Lester, Helen. Hooway for Wodney Wat. Ages 5-8. The other kids tease Rodney, but his way of speaking is what helps defeat the classroom bully.
- Michelson, Richard. Busing Brewster. Random House, 2010. Ages 7-10. This is an unusual, sensitive picture book set in Boston during the contentious 1974 court-ordered busing. Brewster and his brother experience taunts by children and adults when they start at the white school. Fortunately, Brewster finds caring, helpful Miss O’Grady, the librarian, who encourages Brewster in his goal to become president some day.
- Moss, Peggy. Say Something. Tilbury, 2004. A child who doesn’t speak up when other children are bullied finds herself in that position one day.
- O’Neill, Alexis. The Recess Queen. Scholastic, 2002. Ages 5-8. Mean Jean was the playground bully nobody contradicted until the new kid, sweet, sassy little Katie Sue broke the rules and even invited Jean to become her friend.
- Swope, Sam. The Araboolies of Liberty Street. Random, 1995. Ages 6-8. Horrors! The Araboolies don’t conform to General Pinch’s standards! They must go! No, decide the neighbors, that intolerance must give way to freedom, respect, and individuality.
For middle-school and up, consider such novels as …
- Blume, Judy. Blubber. Ages 9-12.
- Hiassen, Carl. Hoot. Ages 10-14.
- Howe, James. The Misfits. Ages 10-14.
- Spinelli, Jerry. Loser. Ages 10-14.