Bullies and Bullying

Book Links: February/March 2002 (v.11, no.4)

by Helen Foster James

"So here's what I can't figure out. If everybody who works at school is so smart, how come they can't get rid of the bullies? How come when it comes to bullies, kids are mostly on their own?" --Jake in Jake Drake: Bully Buster by Andrew Clements

I began to think about writing an article on bullies when a ninth-grade boy at Santana High School in Santee, California, started shooting and killing students last year. The school is in a quiet San Diego suburb and less than two miles from where I once worked. The geographic proximity of the event brought the tragic stories of similar school shootings closer to me personally.

Children's author Larry Dane Brimner writes, "Bullies come in two types: physical and verbal. The physical bully lashes out with fists and feet and seems to bulldoze a path through the school. Less obvious is the verbal bully, who does not use force and physical strength, but instead relies on cutting words and name-calling. Although difficult to detect, the verbal bully is every bit as hurtful as the one who would poke you in the stomach. From Littleton to Santee, the children who committed these violent acts, the so-called 'bullies,' were described as not fitting in. In every case they were objects of name calling and teasing. In other words, they were objects of bullying themselves, and eventually acted out against their tormentors. Schools should be safe and nurturing places for everyone. As adults in the school setting, we need to be as alert to the verbal bully as we are to the physical one." But what can we adults who work with children do? Is Jake Drake right--do we leave kids on their own when it comes to bullies? For those of us who love sharing books, what can we offer to students on this subject? Below is a sampling of books that may assist in a discussion of teasing and tormenting and help both children and adults in dealing with bullies and their victims.

Books for Younger Readers

Bottner, Barbara. Bootsie Barker Bites. Illus. by Peggy Rathmann. 1992. 32p. Putnam, $16.99 (0-399-22125-5); Puffin, paper, $5.99 (0-698-11427-2).
Preschool-Gr. 3. While her mother visits with Bootsie's mother, the narrator is subjected to Bootsie's unpleasant games, which frequently involve biting. When faced with the prospect of having Bootsie spend the night, the narrator turns the tables on Bootsie by inventing a new game to play.

Brimner, Larry Dane. Cory Coleman, Grade 2. Illus. by Karen Ritz. 1991. 80p. Holt, paper, $6.95 (0-8050-1844-1).
K-Gr. 3. Seven-year-old Cory's experiences with a bully end up ruining his birthday party. However, readers will feel some sympathy for the bully as they learn what motivates his actions.

Carlson, Nancy. How to Lose All Your Friends. 1994. 32p. Viking, $15.99 (0-670-84906-5); Puffin, paper, $5.99 (0-14-055862-4).
Preschool-Gr. 2. With humor, Carlson pokes fun at bullies and others who have a hard time attracting and keeping friends. This tongue-in-cheek book invites discussion about what characteristics true friends exhibit.

Caseley, Judith. Bully. 2001. 32p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow, $15.95 (0-688-17867-7).
Preschool-Gr. 3. When Mickey's best friend, Jack, turns into a bully, Mickey's mother and father offer advice on how to handle the situation. Mickey learns that Jack feels displaced by his new baby sister and is angry and hurt. Readers will feel sympathy for both the victim and the bully and may gain an understanding of the pain often felt by students who become bullies.

Clements, Andrew. Jake Drake: Bully Buster. Illus. by Amanda Harvey. 2001. 80p. Simon & Schuster, $14 (0-689-83917-0); Aladdin, paper, $3.99 (0-689-83880-8).
Gr. 2-5. Now a fourth-grader in this popular series, Jake seems to be a bully magnet, and new kid Link Baxter is a superbully. What happens when they're teamed up for a class project?

Estes, Eleanor. The Hundred Dresses. Illus. by Louis Slobodkin. 1944; reissued 1988. 80p. Harcourt, $16 (0-15-237374-8); paper, $6 (0-15-642350-2).
Gr. 3-5. Wanda Petronski is teased and taunted every day because she wears the same faded dress. But she says she has 100 beautiful dresses at home, made of silk, velvet, and in many different colors. She does--she's drawn every one of them. This Newbery Honor Book is an effective indictment of prejudice.

Henkes, Kevin. Chrysanthemum. 1991. 32p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow, $15.95 (0-688-09699-9); paper, $5.95 (0-688-14732-1).
Preschool-Gr. 3. Chrysanthemum, a mouse, starts kindergarten and is teased by her classmates because of her name. Her parents provide love and support and, with the help of her music teacher, Delphinium, flower names may become a new fad.

Keats, Ezra Jack. Goggles! 1969; reissued 1998. 32p. Viking, $15.99 (0-670-88062-0); Puffin, paper, $6.99 (0-14-056440-3).
Preschool-Gr. 3. One day, Peter and his friend Archie stumble on a treasure--a pair of motorcycle goggles. They then must use their wits to keep their prize away from the neighborhood bullies, in this Caldecott Honor Book.

McCain, Becky Ray. Nobody Knew What to Do: A Story about Bullying. Illus. by Todd Leonardo. 2001. 24p. Albert Whitman, $14.95 (0-8075-5711-0).
Gr. 1-4. When Ray is bullied the other children in his class are sympathetic but feel powerless to do anything. One child seeks help from his teacher "so we could all figure out what to do." McCain presents the topic in a straightforward, nonsentimental manner. A brief discussion about "Bully Prevention" for adults is included.

Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. The King of the Playground. Illus. by Nola Langner Malone. 1994. 32p. Aladdin, paper, $6.99 (0-689-71802-0).
Preschool-Gr. 3. Each day Sammy threatens Kevin, proclaiming himself "King of the Playground." Kevin and his father discuss Sammy's actions, and Kevin gains the confidence to resolve the conflict. Alexis O'Neill's The Recess Queen (Scholastic, 2002) offers another take on playground bullying.

Parr, Todd. It's Okay to Be Different. 2001. 32p. Little, Brown/Megan Tingley, $14.95 (0-316-66603-3).
Preschool-Gr. 3. Through bright, childlike illustrations and text, Parr says that it's okay to be different from others, an important first step in getting children to accept each other.

Polacco, Patricia. Thank You, Mr. Falker. 1998. 40p. Philomel, $16.99 (0-399-23166-8).
K-Gr. 3. This touching book is based on the author's childhood, during which she endured being teased and called "dumb" because of a learning disability that left her unable to read until the fifth grade. Here a caring teacher learns her secret and provides her with the support she needs to learn to read.

Romain, Trevor. Bullies Are a Pain in the Brain. 1997. 112p. Free Spirit, paper, $9.95 (1-57542-023-6).
Gr. 3-5. This nonfiction book may assist in starting conversations about bullies and tormenters. Presented with humor and cartoonlike illustrations are practical coping strategies to avoid, confront, and understand bullies.

Books for Older Readers

Blume, Judy. Blubber. 1974; reissued 1982. 160p. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (0-02-711010-9); Yearling, paper, $4.99 (0-440-40707-9).
Gr. 4-6. Jill goes along with the rest of her fifth-grade class in tormenting Linda, an overweight classmate. But then she finds out what it's like to be on the other side when she is subjected to their taunts. Blume's book is an honest and realistic look at the cruelty in schools, and it doesn't present a tidy ending.

Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. 1974; reissued 1986. 253p. Knopf, $19.95 (0-394-82805-4); Laurel-Leaf, paper, $5.50 (0-440-94459-7).
Gr. 8-12. After refusing to sell chocolates in the annual fundraising drive at a Catholic boys' high school, Jerry is abused and victimized by a group of bullying classmates and, even worse, a teacher, in this young adult classic.

Crutcher, Chris. Ironman. 1995. 192p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow, $16.95 (0-688-13503-X); Laurel-Leaf, paper, $4.99 (0-440-21971-X).
Gr. 8-12. When 17-year-old Bo attends an anger management group at school, he starts to examine his relationship with his father, who is bullying his own son. Strong characterization and flowing prose make this a believable story.

Hahn, Mary Downing.Stepping on the Cracks. 1991. 224p. Clarion, $16 (0-395-58507-4); Avon, paper, $4.95 (0-380-71900-2).
Gr. 5-8. Best friends Margaret and Elizabeth are feeling patriotic during World War II--and also very scared of the sixth-grade class bully, Gordy Smith. Then they learn that he is hiding his brother, a conscientious objector who has deserted the army. The girls are faced with many questions. Is Gordy's brother a coward? Should they turn him in? Hahn leaves the issues open in this thought-provoking novel.

Howe, James. The Misfits. 2001. 288p. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16 (0-689-83955-3).
Gr. 5-8. In this engaging if somewhat message-heavy novel about name-calling, Bobby and his friends--Addie, the political radical, Joe, who is gay, and Skeezie, the troublemaker--are self-defined seventh-grade misfits who form the No-Name Party for the upcoming school election. Their slogan is "Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirits." The characters here are strong and satisfying, and the inclusion of a confident gay student is heartening.

Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders. 1967; reissued 1997. 192p. Viking, $16.99 (0-670-53257-6); Puffin, paper, $6.99 (0-14-038572-X).
Gr. 8-12. The Greasers, members of a tough lower-class neighborhood gang, have a running feud with the Socs, who hail from a more middle-class neighborhood. Ponyboy, a Greaser, tells his story, which demonstrates the desperate need to belong.

Johnston, Tony. Any Small Goodness: A Novel of the Barrio. 2001. 128p. Scholastic/Blue Sky, $15.95 (0-439-18936-5).
Gr. 4-7. In the barrio of East Los Angeles, 11-year-old Arturo encounters some gang members who "just enjoy sending fear-ripples over people." Spanish expressions and numerous local references contribute to the rich setting and characters.

Lord, Bette Bao. In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. Illus. by Marc Simont. 1984. 176p. HarperTrophy, paper, $4.95 (0-06-440175-8).
Gr. 3-6. In 1947, a 10-year-old Chinese girl named Shirley comes to Brooklyn. Shirley doesn't know English, so it's hard to make friends. But after she becomes friends with the toughest girl in the class, the other kids include her in their games and she discovers baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Mead, Alice. Junebug and the Reverend. 1998. 192p. Farrar, $16 (0-374-33965-1).
Gr. 4-6. In this sequel to Junebug (Farrar, 1995), Junebug's life is changing for the better; his family leaves the projects and makes a new start. But while his sister, Tasha, makes friends easily, Junebug becomes the target of bullying. Mead effectively portrays a resilient young boy in a difficult situation.

Naidoo, Beverley. The Other Side of Truth. 2001. 272p. HarperCollins, $16.95 (0-06-029628-3).
Gr. 6-10. In this contemporary adventure story, Sade's mother is assassinated in their driveway in Nigeria, a consequence of Sade's father's anti-government newspaper columns. Sade and her brother flee to London to live with an uncle, but upon their arrival, they find that he is missing. With no way to reach their father, they lie about their identities and are placed in a foster home, and soon Sade finds herself trying to overcome cruel bullying at her new school.

Philbrick, Rodman. Freak the Mighty. 1993. 176p. Scholastic/Blue Sky, $15.95 (0-590-47412-X); paper, $4.99 (0-590-47413-8).
Gr. 7-10. Max and Kevin, two picked-on boys, combine their strengths to eliminate their weaknesses and take on the world and its bullies. Told in retrospect by Max, this is a poignant story of friendship and acceptance with two extraordinary characters and well-paced action that will hold readers' attention.

Spinelli, Jerry. Crash. 1996. 162p. Knopf, $16 (0-679-87957-9); Yearling, paper, $5.50 (0-679-88550-1).
Gr. 5-7. Crash Coogan is a football player, completely confident, and the tormentor of Penn Webb, a friendly, small, pacifist Quaker. Crash's beloved grandfather comes to live with the family and suffers a disabling stroke, resulting in a change in Crash's lifestyle and in his thinking about values. Strong characters, a fast-paced plot, and lots of humor will draw kids to this novel.

Spinelli, Jerry. Wringer. 1997. 240p. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-06-024913-7); HarperTrophy, paper, $5.95 (0-06-440578-8).
Gr. 4-7. Nine-year-old Palmer struggles with peer pressure as he faces his tenth birthday, when he will become a "wringer"--one who wrings the necks of pigeons wounded in the annual Pigeon Day Shoot. Palmer fears what will happen if his former best friend, who betrayed him to gain acceptance from a gang of bullies, finds out he has adopted a pet pigeon.

Strasser, Todd. Give a Boy a Gun. 2000. 160p. Simon & Schuster, $16 (0-689-81112-8); Simon Pulse, paper, $4.99 (0-689-84893-5).
Gr. 8-12. This chilling account of two boys who take classmates at their high school hostage is told through interview-style snippets from the victims and the perpetrators. Footnotes about gun statistics and school violence appear throughout the story, and a list of additional resources is included.

Wilson, Jacqueline. Bad Girls. Illus. by Nick Sharratt. 2001. 176p. Delacorte, $15.95 (0-385-72916-2); Yearling, paper, $4.50 (0-440-41806-2).
Gr. 3-6. Mandy Wilson hates looking 8 years old when she's actually 10. And because of this, she's constantly being teased by the beautiful school bully, Kim. Then Mandy forms a friendship with her new neighbor, a foster girl, and they both learn from each other.

Web Connections

  • The Association for Conflict Resolution at http://www.acresolution.org is an organization dedicated to enhancing the practice and public understanding of conflict resolution.
  • Jigsaw Classroom at http://www.jigsaw.org is a cooperative learning technique intended to reduce conflict among children. The Web site contains numerous links to topics on cooperative learning and school violence prevention.
  • The National Crime Prevention Council's list of "12 Things Teachers Can Do" to stop school violence may be found on its Web site at http://www.ncpc.org/2schvio2.htm. These guidelines provide educators with concrete strategies for preventing and coping with violence.

Professional Resources

  • Borda, Michelle. Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues That Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing. 2001. Jossey-Bass, $24.95 (0-7879-5357-1).
    This resource provides educators with strategies to assist children in developing strong moral habits, controlling aggression, standing up to peers, and handling emotions. The companion Web site, http://www.moralintelligence.com, provides additional resources, including links to a variety of articles related to preventing school violence.
  • Crutcher, Chris. "The Outsiders." School Library Journal. August 2001.
    Young adult author and former educator Crutcher writes a personal article about students who are teased, dismissed, and humiliated, and their need to be heard and included.

Helen Foster James is a former media specialist and coordinator of library media services for Santee School District. She currently teaches children's literature at San Diego State University.