"Books to Begin Conversations about Bullying" (Part 2) by Lesley Roessing
According to stopbullying.gov, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are two modes of bullying: direct and indirect (spreading rumors), and there are four types of bullying: physical, verbal, relational, and damage to property. The newest type of bullying is electronic bullying or cyberbullying. According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, 28% of U.S. students in grades 6–12 experienced bullying. In surveys, 30% of young people admit to bullying others.
Adolescent suicide is now the second leading cause of death of young people of age 10-24 (“10 Leading Causes of Death by Age Group, United States–2016,“ National Vital Statistics System, National Center for Health Statistics, CDC). The CDC cites studies that have shown that youth who report frequently bullying others and youth who report being frequently bullied are at increased risk for suicide-related behavior. Youth who report both bullying others and being bullied have the highest risk for suicide-related behavior of any groups that report involvement in bullying. While bullying may not be the sole cause of suicide, the bottom-line of current research findings is that being involved in bullying in any way—as a person who bullies, a person who is bullied, or a person who both bullies and is bullied is one of several important risk factors that appears to increase the risk of suicide among youth.
I share eleven additional novels—in no particular order—that present bullying from a variety of perspectives—victim, bully, and bully-victim—and portray a variety of types of bullying.
1. Thompson, Holly. Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth
Jason Parker is a sixth grade American boy living and attending school in Japan where he is different—and bullied for being different. He has redefined “friend” as anyone who doesn’t punch or kick him or refer to him as a “stinking foreigner.” Near the end of the school year Jason is placed in a group, or han, with five of the meanest kids in the class. What follows is relentless bullying, and the reader sees the importance of telling an adult, but not just any adult. The teacher has to be aware of what is going on, and Jason is afraid that his parents will make it worse. He is hoping to last until his parents can afford to send him to the international school.
With the support of his little sister, two new friends outside school—an older man with Parkinson’s disease and a teen who quit school because of the bullying, his English group, and aikido, Jason perseveres until the bullies “play” the choking game and Jason’s parents and the school finally become involved. Jason’s aikido instructor explains “…we need to train so that we sense danger in order to avoid it” but also warns him “the world is full of all kinds of people and some of them are a bit lost” (308-309).
In short lyrical free-verse lines, the reader learns about Japanese culture but also the trials of being perceived as different in any culture. The reader experiences the effects of bullying on children and the importance of effectively stopping and preventing bullying but also becomes aware of the dilemmas involved with trying to end bullying. I found myself frustrated that Jason did not tell his parents, but then I am an adult. I also was disturbed that his teacher ignored all the signs, but I have learned that this is too often true. In fact, Jason wants to change the rule that allows teachers to hit students.
An effective student examination of bullying would be for a class to read both Orchards and Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth to gain different perspectives and begin conversations on the different types of bullying, or for half a class to read each one or to combine these novels with other books on bullying that I reviewed in “Books to Begin.
2. Korman, Gordon. Restart. Scholastic Press, 2017.
After a particularly vicious prank, pulled with his best friends, fellow football team members Aaron and Bear, he was given community service as a punishment (which is how he became involved with the senior citizens he now helps voluntarily). Surprisingly his father approves of Bully Chase and is disappointed that his concussion prevents him from playing football.
As Chase navigates his “new” world, he is worried that he might slip back into old habits and that he won’t be able to convince his new friends and his step-family that he really has changed. He finds that he might still have to pay for who he was and figure out who he will be able to become. I read this well-written novel straight through, worrying that it might be too late for Chase to be accepted for who he now is.
3. Squint. Morris, Chad and Shelly Brown. Shadow Mountain, 2018.
Flint, nicknamed Squint because he has an eye disease that compromises his eyesight, has two goals: to win a comic book contest and make friends in middle school. McKell is a new student from a school where she had few friends. In Flint’s school she hangs out with the popular kids who bully Squint. But McKell befriends Squint, and they encourage each other, following her brother’s Danny’s video challenges, to attempt something new and follow their passions. When Squint adds a female superhero hero, Diamond, to aid his comic hero also named Squint, he supports McKell in overcoming her fear of sharing her talent. As they step out of their comfort zones, Squint confronts his bullies and finds that relationships are not always what you think they are.
This is a powerful novel about trust in others and trust in oneself and about adolescents learning to be themselves as they navigate middle school with all its rules. I was hoping for some comics (graphics) to go along with the story, but the Squint does share the text of his comic book as he creates it.
4. Haston, Meg. How to Rock Braces and Glasses. Poppy, 2013.
Kacey is a bully. She does not see herself s a bully or even as a mean girl; she sees herself as honest, as knowing what everyone should say, do, and wear, and she is just there to help them or help them get real. "The truth may hurt, but it's always better to know"(189). Her world as school leader falls apart when an eye infection leaves her with glasses and new braces leave her—a school news reporter and star of the musical—with a lisp. Her best friends drop her and cyber bully her and while an old friend offers to help, it is to receive help herself, having decided in fifth grade that she was embarrassed to be seen with Kacey (which is not how Kacey remembers the end of the friendship). And the cute nerd seems to be dating her former best friend. Kacey reclaims her popularity, but takes responsibility for herself and her past actions.
5. Baskin, Nora Raleigh. Runt. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers. 2013.
As the students in this novel’s middle school bully each other, are aghast or sometimes proud of their attempts, become bullies and are bullied, they each deal with bullies and the effects of bullying. Elizabeth ruminates on the effect of her unintended bullying of a scared little dog who now shakes at her approach, “There are some kids of hurt that are just too much to feel.” (95) But middle school bullying as outlined above takes many forms; in general boys are more physical and girls employ relationship bullying, exclusion. In both genders, bullies seek out the weak. “In the wild mountain lions have been known to attack their own leader when he appears weak and unable to protect his pride.” (171) Apparently no one is safe.
As the dog who narrates the Afterword says, “I want to know where I belong.” (194). These characters and their stories will help generate discussions that may help readers clarify not only where they belong but where they want to belong, how they want to be treated and how they want to treat others.
6. Kelly, Erin Entrada. Hello, Universe. Greenwillow Books, 2017.
Three young adolescents find each other and, even though “there are no coincidences,” they bond through a series of happenstances. Virgil is trapped and his life is endangered when Chet Bullens, the school bully, throws Virgil’s pet guinea pig down an abandoned well in the woods and Virgil follows to save him. Searching for him with new friend Kaori, and the assistance of little sister Gen, Valencia finds Virgil and the friendship they both desperately want and need. Through these connections, Virgil gains the strength to stand up to the bully and demand his place in a family who is quite different from him.
7. Connor, Leslie. The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018.
Mason has suffered more than his share of losses—he had a walkaway daddy, his grandfather and mother died, and, along with most of the town, Mason is still mourning his very best friend who fell from the ladder of their tree house and died. And there are two bullies who are always after him.
What Mason does have, beside an indomitable spirit, are a compassionate school social worker, a new best friend who is as loyal as Mason, a neighbor’s dog who loves him, and a supportive family. However, what Mason doesn’t realize is that Benny died under mysterious circumstances and some people, including the lieutenant who questions him incessantly and Benny’s two fathers, think Mason may be to blame. As Calvin and Mason create their own hideaway and battle bullies, Mason inadvertently solves the crime, but he still is never one to think badly of anyone, “My heart feels scrambled” (p. 320). The truth as told by Mason Buttle is the truth.
The reader will fall in love with Mason, and even though he may begin the story wearing a T-shirt that proclaims him as “STOOPID,” he ends with the revelation that “Knowing what you love is smart.”
With very short chapters and a wealth of diverse characters, this novel would be a good teacher read-aloud.
8. Buyea, Rob. The Perfect Score. Delacourte Press, 2017
With the help of their two teachers who have their own personal problems, these classmates band together as The Recruits and face off against the biggest bully of all, the standardized test.
Each chapter is narrated by one of these students, demonstrating perspective but also providing an opportunity for a Reader's Theater read aloud of the novel. Or students could read this book in lit circles, each lit circle tracking one of the students.
9. McAnulty, Stacy. The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl. Random House, 2018.
But Nana has other plans, and she enrolls Lucy in 7th grade at the local middle school for one year. There Lucy hides her identity as a “freak” and makes two friends, but when her secret is revealed, she finds out that middle school is where many feel different and anxious, even the popular kids.
Reading this wonderful new book for grade 4-8 readers straight through, I fell in love with Lucy and empathized with her struggles to understand human behavior—the mean girls who bully her, making fun of her differences and excluding her; the boy who cheats off her in math class and is constantly taking photographs; the BFF who betrays her. When she works on a school project and falls in love with a dog at the shelter, she learns to reach out to save him and finds there are people she can depend on, especially Levy, the cheater. Levy grew into my favorite behavior because, an outsider himself, he understood human behavior and was able to capture, appreciate, and share the complexity through his photography.
Middle school is where very few fit in—whether a genius or not.
10. Morris, Chad, and Shelly Brown. Mustaches for Maddie. Shadown Mountain, 2017.
There is a girl in story-Maddie’s class who is a bully. She bullies in the distinctive way of girls—through exclusion. Cassie decides who can play with her each recess and excludes all others. As Maddie wins the part that Cassie wants in a class production, she becomes even more mean, and when Maddie is diagnosed with a brain tumor, Cassie tells the other students that she made it up. However, Maddie has created amore inclusive playground with her imaginative games as she invites more and more students to join in.
Through two surgeries Maddie keeps her wild imagination and sense of humor—anything is funnier while wearing a mustache, discovering that she has quite a lot of school friends and a wide community for support and even a boy who likes her. But she learns that many children are going though tough times and they all need a little support, even if they don’t ask for it. Bullying takes place with a perceived power imbalance; Maddie balanced that power.
This is a novel that many children need as they face—and help others face—bullies and all sorts of problems that our young people of today are facing.
11. Friend, Natasha. How We Roll.
Quinn has a brother who is on the autism spectrum, and his tantrums and food requirements consume her parents’ at6tion, especially her mother’s. So when Quinn’s hair falls out and she is diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder, she handles the challenges on her own, assuming that her middle school friends will support her. Which they do—until they don’t. Bullied and ridiculed by her peers and ignored by her two lifelong friends, Quinn copes by keeping to herself and putting her energy into skateboarding and basketball.
Serendipitously, when the family moves across the country so her brother can attend a special school, she has a chance to start over, with her two new wigs—Guinevere and Sasha. At her new school she meets a group of girls who adopt her. She also meets Jake. Jake, the former star football player, was in an accident and is now a bilateral amputee, sad and bitter, and the two become unlikely friends. Quinn also finds out that it is possible to have friends who like you for who you are, not what you look like.
What impressed me was how three-dimensional the characters were and not only how supportive Quinn is despite her heartbreak, but she is learning to trust that others can be as supportive. I really came to like all the characters, even Jake’s flawed brother and the ninth-grade popular girls (except for the old schoolmates whom the reader was not supposed to like). Readers will experience just how demanding life with a neuro-diverse child can be but, on the other hand, just how supportive a family and a community can be. This is a community I didn’t want to leave.
As teacher and librarians prepare for their 2018-19 middle grade and high school readers, they should keep these 26 titles in mind for whole-class, book club, or independent reading to generate important conversations about bullying and bullies, victims, bystanders, and upstanders.