Coping with Violence

Book Links: September 1999 (v.9 no.1)

by Sally Driscoll

It seems as though we are becoming a nation of mourners and victims. Few communities have not experienced senseless crimes, and media coverage of tragedies perpetuates widespread grief. Teachers and other adults who work with inner-city children deal with posttraumatic stress disorder regularly. Suburban and rural teachers are now looking for ways to cope with their grieving students. How can literature help?

We all know the adage, “the right book, for the right child, at the right time.” Is there a right book to read to a class immediately after a school shooting? What young adult books are there for readers who are grieving and need reassurance that they are not alone? Is there a book for young children that explains why people do bad things? Which books offer solutions or preventive suggestions?

The accompanying bibliography includes excellent titles for these needs. However, a book that would be appropriate for one class, at one school, may not work for another. Children come from many different backgrounds, with varying experiences. Many young children in inner-city “war zones” have witnessed violence by the time they enroll in school, and have been forced to confront mature issues early in life. Books that reflect these realities would certainly be helpful, but publishers have focused more on the young adult age group, thus limiting selections available to younger children.

Which books are best to read immediately following a tragedy? For young children especially, selections that exhibit warmth and love, a beloved character, or a predictable story may be better choices than those that focus on death or violence. A single poem may be perfect. All children need to feel safe and secure.

Many of the books in this list contain excellent background information on the gun control controversy, gangs, and teen violence. Picture books and fiction involve a wide variety of characters who have dealt with the death of somebody close and have found ways to understand and handle their emotions.

Literature should never replace counseling or therapy, and adults should always be aware of students who seem to be having difficulty coping. Most important, any book used for healing should be quality literature, a book with merit above and beyond its therapeutic value.

Books for Young Children

Picture Books

Bunting, Eve. Smoky Night. Illus. by David Diaz. 1994. 32p. Harcourt, $16 (0-15-269954-6); paper, $6 (0-15-201884-0).
K–Gr. 3. Outside young Daniel’s apartment building, rioters smash windows and loot stores, while inside, Mama explains the violent behavior to him. After fire forces the family from its apartment into a shelter, the opportunity arises for Daniel and his mother to befriend their Korean neighborhood grocer. This 1995 Caldecott Medal winner is an excellent choice for sparking lively discussion.

Cohn, Janice. Why Did It Happen: Helping Children Cope in a Violent World. Illus. by Gail Owens. 1994. 32p. Morrow, $15 (0-688-12312-0).
K–Gr. 4. A young boy, Daniel, becomes fearful, confused, and angry when his older friend, the neighborhood grocer, is injured during a robbery. An introduction for parents, as well as adult characters who are portrayed sensitively, will aid adults with discussions.

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs. Grandmother Bryant’s Pocket. Illus. by Petra Mathers. 1996. 48p. Houghton, $14.95 (0-395-68984-8).
Gr. 1–4. At her grandparents’ farm in the summer of 1787, after her beloved dog dies in a barn fire, Sara overcomes her grief and nightmares with the help of her grandmother’s herb-filled “pocket.” This is a good story for children who have generalized fears.

Turner, Barbara J. A Little Bit of Rob. Illus. by Marni Backer. 1996. 32p. Albert Whitman, $14.95 (0-8075-4577-5).
K–Gr. 4. The importance of family members’ sharing their grief and memories is addressed in this story. Young Lena and her parents go crab fishing for the first time since her older brother, Rob, died. While on the boat, Lena finds Rob’s sweatshirt, and, while grieving silently, puts it on. Her parents realize how much they all need each other, and all three stay up until dawn sharing memories and tears.

Nonfiction Picture Books

Apel, Lorelei. Dealing with Weapons in School and at Home. 1996. 24p. Rosen, $15.95 (0-8239-2327-4).
Gr. 2–4. Part of the Conflict Resolution Library series, this is a very basic introduction to the subject for beginning and intermediate readers, with some good safety advice.

Brown, Laurie Krasny, and Marc Brown. When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death. Illus. by Marc T. Brown. 1996. 32p. Little, Brown, $14.95 (0-316-10917-7).
K–Gr. 4. This multipurpose book discusses why and how people die, what death means, rituals, the grieving process, suggestions for coping with grief, and ways to remember those who are gone. The material is presented sensitively, with just enough humor.

Lamb, Nancy. One April Morning: Children Remember the Oklahoma City Bombing. Illus. by Floyd Cooper. 1996. 48p. Lothrop, $16 (0-688-14666-X).
Gr. 2–4. Children involved in the bombing recount the tragedy and, along with teachers and other adults, discuss the grieving process and their opinions about suitable punishment. This book is especially useful for those children who have heard about the incident.

Schulson, Rachel Ellenberg. Guns: What You Should Know. Illus. by Mary Jones. 1997. 24p. Albert Whitman, $13.95 (0-8075-3093-X); paper, $5.95 (0-8075-3094-8).
K–Gr. 3. It’s never too early to begin a gun safety program, and this book is a useful introduction to firearms and what they can do. It offers some thought-provoking material, including a brief introduction to the gun control controversy that may be more appropriate for older children.

Books for Middle Readers

Bohlmeijer, Arno. Something Very Sorry. 1995. 76p. Houghton, $13.95 (0-395-74679-5); paper, $5.95 (0-698-11610-0).
Gr. 4–7. A car accident has left nine-year-old Rose, her younger sister, and her parents hospitalized, although her mother soon dies from her injuries. Supportive friends and relatives and an emotionally strong, sensitive father help Rose cope with the loss of her mother as well as with her own injuries. Many readers will relate to the helplessness Rose feels, in this moving Australian novel.

Fox, Paula. One-Eyed Cat. 1985. 216p. Simon & Schuster, $14.95 (0-02-735540-3); Dell, paper, $5.50 (0-440-46641-5).
Gr. 4–7. Eleven-year-old Ned is anxious to shoot the air rifle that was given to him for his birthday. Against his father’s wishes, he takes the rifle outside at night and fires just once; however, he suffers emotionally over the likely consequences of his action for a long time.

Lorbiecki, Marybeth. Just One Flick of a Finger. Illus. by David Diaz. 1996. 40p. Dial, $14.99 (0-8037-1948-5).
Gr. 3–7. A boy, terrorized by a bully, brings a gun to school to scare him off, but instead accidentally shoots both himself and a friend. An urban setting, rap-style text, and bold illustrations will attract readers.

Park, Barbara. Mick Harte Was Here.1995. 90p. Knopf, $15 (0-679-87088-1); paper, $4.99 (0-679-88203-0).
Gr. 4–7. Phoebe’s younger brother, 12-year-old Mick, dies in a bicycle accident during which he was not wearing a helmet. Phoebe’s close friend, Zoe, helps her cope with the loss. Lively humor helps to lighten the situation.

Spinelli, Jerry. Wringer. 1997. 240p. HarperCollins, $14.95 (0-06-024913-7); paper, $4.95 (0-06-440578-8).
Gr. 4–7. Nine-year-old Palmer dreads his tenth birthday. In his town, boys of that age traditionally become “wringers” who strangle wounded pigeons at the annual pigeon shoot. Palmer’s sensitive, nonviolent personality creates inner struggles as well as struggles with his father, who has won awards for being a sharpshooter. A Newbery Honor Book, this story lends itself easily to discussions on a variety of topics.

Books for Older Readers


Grant, Cynthia D. Mary Wolf. 1995. 166p. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16 (0-689-80007-X); paper, $4.50 (0-689-81251-5).
Gr. 8–12. Sixteen-year-old Mary and her family have been traveling across the country in an RV, while Dad tries to find employment. As their situation gradually goes from bad to worse, this novel depicts the mental instability that can arise from living in difficult circumstances, and what can happen when a gun is added to the equation.

Griffin, Adele. Rainy Season. 1996. 208p. Houghton, $14.95 (0-395-81181-3); Hyperion, paper, $5.95 (0-7868-1241-9).
Gr. 6–9. In this story, set on a military base in Panama during the late 1970s, 12-year old Lane experiences fear, aggression, anxiety, and sadness within her seemingly dysfunctional family life. From her journal entries addressed to Emily, it is apparent that something has happened to her sister and that she misses Emily dearly. This book shows the importance of retaining photographs, keeping journals, and communicating with friends and relatives.

LeMieux, A. C. Do Angels Sing the Blues? 1995. 234p. Morrow/Tambourine, $14 (0-688-13725-3); Avon, paper, $4.50 (0-380-72399-9).
Gr. 8–10. A dedication to the late guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan sets the tone for this novel about two high-school blues musicians whose friendship is challenged by a girlfriend and then ended by a tragic death. Despite the story’s tragedy, there is humor interspersed with wisdom.

McDonald, Joyce. Swallowing Stones. 1997. 256p. Delacorte, $15.95 (0-385-32309-3); Dell, paper, $4.50 (0-440-22672-4).
Gr. 8–12. Michael is given an antique Winchester rifle for his seventeenth birthday. When he fires the gun randomly into the air, it kills a man at work on his rooftop a mile away. Peer pressure, internal stress, and a police investigation all weigh heavily on Michael as the rest of the story unfolds.

Myers, Walter Dean. Scorpions. 1988. 160p. HarperCollins, $14.95 (0-06-024364-3); paper, $4.95 (0-06-447066-0).
Gr. 6–9. In this portrait of life in the inner city, where gangs, drug abuse, and violence are a part of growing up, 12-year-old Jamal takes over his incarcerated older brother’s position as leader of the Scorpions. His new position comes with many life-threatening situations, and a gun, which is eventually fired. There is much here for youth to relate to.

Paulsen, Gary. The Rifle. 1995. 105p. Harcourt, $16 (0-15-292880-4); Dell, paper, $4.50 (0-440-21920-5).
Gr. 5–10. Guns don’t kill, people do, is the main issue confronted in this history of an eighteenth-century rifle from its original manufacture to its final owner, in the 1990s. Along the way, readers will gain perspective about rifle design; the use of rifles for war, hunting, and collecting; and gun safety.

Rapp, Adam. The Buffalo Tree. 1997. 188p. Front Street, $15.95 (1-886910-19-7); HarperCollins, paper, $11 (0-06-440711-X).
Gr. 6–10. A powerful and mesmerizing first-person account by Ura, a 12-year-old boy, of life in a juvenile detention center. This gripping story depicts some emotional, mental, and socioeconomic factors that can contribute to youth crime.

Rodowsky, Colby. Remembering Mog. 1995. 144p. Farrar, $14 (0-374-34663-1); Avon, paper, $3.99 (0-380-72922-9).
Gr. 7–10. Annie, a graduating high-school senior, has been grieving the murder of her older sister, Mog, for two years. She is unable to make decisions about her future, and finally seeks out a therapist, who helps her.

Twelve Shots: Outstanding Short Stories about Guns. Edited by Harry Mazer. 1997. 272p. Delacorte, $15.95 (0-385-32238-0); Dell, paper, $4.99 (0-440-22002-5).
Gr. 8–12. A collection of stories by well-known young adult writers, such as Richard Peck, Walter Dean Myers, and Rob Thomas, presents a variety of situations in which youth have access to guns. An appendix with up-to-date and enlightening statistics is included, as well as a list of organizations for more information.

VanOosting, James. The Last Payback. 1997. 144p. HarperCollins, $14.95 (0-06-027491-3); paper, $4.95 (0-06-440722-5).
Gr. 6–8. Twelve-year-old Dimple Dorfman’s anger and grief over her twin brother’s accidental shooting death lead to additional violent behavior. This book looks at the consequences when children have access to guns.

Walter, Virginia. Making Up Megaboy. Illus. by Katrina Roeckelein. 1998. 62p. DK Ink, $16.95 (0-7894-2488-6); Delacorte, paper, $8.95 (0-385-32686-6).
Gr. 6–9. On his thirteenth birthday, Robbie Jones fatally shoots the elderly owner of a liquor store. A variety of people, including school friends, parents, a reporter, teachers, and the liquor store owner’s widow, offer their opinions and knowledge concerning the violent act and insight into the boy’s personality and motive.


Atkin, S. Beth. Voices from the Streets: Young Former Gang Members Tell Their Stories. 1996. 132p. Little, Brown, $17.45 (0-316-05634-0).
Gr. 6–12. Former gang members cite their reasons for joining gangs, provide accounts of criminal activity and other trouble they were in, and give reasons and means for leaving the gangs, in this affecting volume.

Bode, Janet, and Stan Mack. Hard Time: A Real Look at Juvenile Crime and Violence. 1996. 183p. Delacorte, $16.95 (0-385-32186-4); paper, $4.99 (0-440-21953-1).
Gr. 7–12. In this appealing and informative book, incarcerated teens, teen victims, and relatives of juvenile offenders provide accounts of crimes, interspersed with poetry, statistics and other factual information, illustrations, and accounts in comic-book format.

Fry, Virginia Lynn. Part of Me Died, Too: Stories of Creative Survival among Bereaved Children and Teenagers. 1995. 217p. Dutton, $19.99 (0-525-45068-8).
Gr. 5–12. Almost a dozen narratives, by and for children of different ages, focus on losing a pet, a friend, or family member in a variety of ways, including murder. The emphasis of the stories is on the healing process and how the individuals coped with their grief.

Newton, David E. Teen Violence: Out of Control. 1995. 112p. Enslow, $19.95 (0-89490-506-6).
Gr. 7–12. This informative book examines teen violence, suggesting causes as well as solutions. It includes a list of organizations, an index, and a bibliography.

Palmer, Jed. Everything You Need to Know When You Are the Victim of a Violent Crime. 1994. 64p. Rosen, $17.95 (0-8239-2622-2).
Gr. 6–12. Although the statistics are slightly outdated, there is much practical information here, such as suggestions for avoiding crime situations, how to handle threatening situations, and how to cope with recovery. A glossary, an index, and a bibliography are included.

Schleifer, Jay. Everything You Need to Know about Weapons in School and at Home. 1994. 64p. Rosen, $17.95 (0-8239-1531-X).
Gr. 6–12. Gun safety, gun control controversy, school solutions, and suggestions for teen involvement are covered in this basic guide to the issue.

Schwartz, Ted. Kids and Guns. 1999. 128p. Watts, $22.50 (0-531-11723-5).
Gr. 9–12. Informative chapters offer balanced viewpoints on topics ranging from the history of gun ownership and legislation to school safety. The up-to-date material includes a look at successful anger management programs in schools across the country.

Adult Resources

Brooks, Barbara, and Paula M. Siegel. The Scared Child: Helping Kids Overcome Traumatic Events. 1996. 150p. Wiley, paper, $14.95 (0-471-08284-8).

Decker, Robert H. When a Crisis Hits, Will Your School Be Ready? 1997. 174p. Corwin Press, $69.95 (0-8039-9615-6); paper, $29.95 (0-8039-6304-1).

Doll, Beth and Carol. Bibliotherapy with Young People: Librarians and Mental Health Professionals Working Together. 1997. 125p. Libraries Unlimited, $23 (1-56308-407-4).

Kinnear, Karen L. Violent Children: A Reference Handbook. 1995. 25lp. ABC-CLIO, $39.50 (0-87436-786-7).

Saunders, Carol Silverman. Safe at School: Awareness and Action for Parents of Kids Grades K–12. Edited by Pamela Espeland. 1994. 221p. Free Spirit, paper, $14.95 (0-915793-71-7).

Web Sites for Further Information

Center to Prevent Handgun Violence:

Mothers Against Violence in America (MAVIA) and Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE):

National Association of School Psychologists:

National Crime Prevention Council:

National Mental Health and Education Center for Children and Families:

National Rifle Association:

Teacher’s Guides

To accompany the paperback edition of Virginia Walter’s Making Up Megaboy (Delacorte, 1999), the publisher has provided a helpful teacher’s guide. Prepared by Pat Scales, a school librarian and regular contributor to Book Links, the guide, which is available online, offers suggestions for questions to think about and interdisciplinary activities that teachers, counselors, librarians, and parents can use, after reading Megaboy, to engage young readers in thoughtful discussion about violence and teenage crime.

The same publisher provides a special teacher’s guide, “Talking about Guns,” prepared by Elizabeth Poe, an associate professor at Radford University, Radford, Virginia, that aids in connecting novels dealing with gun use to information about gun safety and the role of guns in our society. To read these guides online or to order print copies, visit:

Sally Driscoll was formerly a children’s librarian, and is currently a reference assistant in the Education Library at Pennsylvania State University.