We’re well into October now (man, how time flies!) and it seems time to talk about bullying. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and bullying is unfortunately still very common in schools and neighborhoods. We all hate to see our kids struggle with being bullied—or even being the bully—but it’s a topic that can sometimes be tough to talk about. Where do you start?
Well, when in doubt, turn to books! Whether it’s a picture book, graphic novel, or chapter book, a book can provide an excellent avenue for easing into a conversation about dealing with bullies. There are countless children’s books featuring characters who don’t fit in; who feel “different” from everyone else; who are picked on or singled out because they are different. There are also books whose main characters act out or pick on others because they themselves are unhappy or insecure, thus giving readers a look into why bullies act the way they do. If you want to talk to your child or your class about bullying, but aren’t sure where to begin, below are a several books for a wide range of ages that can all be used to frame a conversation about bullying by discussing kindness, tolerance, and acceptance.
Giraffes Can’t Dance, by Giles Andreae & Guy Parker-Rees
“‘Hey, look at clumsy Gerald,’ the animals all sneered. ‘Giraffes can’t dance, you silly fool! Oh, Gerald, you’re so weird.’” Gerald the giraffe wants to dance with the other animals in the annual Jungle Dance, but no matter how hard he tries, he just can’t dance like they can. Luckily, a little cricket comes along and shows Gerald that in fact, he can dance—he just needs a different song. This excellent book takes the phrase “march to the beat of your own drum” and gives it a twist, showing kids the wonderful things that can happen once you find a groove that works for you.
Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes
Chrysanthemum is so excited to start school—until she arrives and is endlessly teased about her long, complicated name. Chrysanthemum wishes she just had a normal name like everyone else, but a kind teacher makes her think again. Before long, all the kids in Chrysanthemum’s class wish they had names like hers! A perfect read for the first day of school and for beginning a conversation about the importance of being kind to others.
Elmer, by David McKee
Elmer isn’t like the gray elephants in his herd. He’s a patchwork elephant: he is yellow and orange and red and blue… and the butt of all the other elephants’ jokes. Elmer decides to make himself gray like everyone else, but is surprised to realize that the other elephants like him the way he is. Sometimes a bully can make kids feel like they need to change; Elmer is a reminder that if we stay true to who we are, we often find that people like us just fine that way.
Horton Hears a Who, by Dr. Seuss
I don’t know about you, but I feel like Dr. Seuss has a book to fit any situation. In this one, Horton the elephant finds a speck of dust with tiny people living on it. Horton worries about them getting hurt and tries to protect them, but the other animals in the jungle say mean things and mock him for talking to a dust speck. Horton doesn’t let their jeering stop him, and through his efforts proves to the other animals that “a person’s a person, no matter how small.” Dr. Seuss conveys an important message through Horton: if you feel in your heart that something is right, you should not let the teasing and bullying of others stop you.
Elephant and Piggie: A Big Guy Took My Ball, by Mo Willems
Elephant and Piggie books have so many great lessons. In A Big Guy Took My Ball, a BIG guy takes Piggie’s ball, which really upsets Piggie. In a fit of righteous anger, Gerald proclaims, “That is not good. That is not right! Big guys have all the fun. What about the little guys!?” True, but unbeknownst to Gerald and Piggie, the big guy—a whale—is also upset because no one will play with him; he’s too big. So what do they do? They all play together, of course! This book for early readers shows us that even if it seems like someone is being a bully, he may just be misunderstood and looking for a friend.
Jane, the Fox, & Me, by Fanny Britt
This graphic novel for ages 9 to 11 handles bullying head-on. The story follows a girl named Hélène as she is tormented at school by a group of girls, who tease her and call her fat. Hélène is lonely, but she comforts herself reading Jane Eyre, “the best book I’ve ever read, even if I’m only halfway through.” Hélène struggles to feel accepted by her classmates, until a class camping trip reveals an unlikely friend. A great book for older children, especially fans of graphic novels, Hélène’s story is a relatable one to anyone facing (or who has ever faced) the tumultuous years of middle school.
Loser, by Jerry Spinelli
With a reading level of age 8 and up, Loser follows a boy called Zinkoff from first grade to middle school. As hard as Zinkoff tries to be like the other kids, he just doesn’t fit in. He’s too clumsy, too messy, too eager to please, and though his name is Zinkoff, everyone calls him Loser. But what his classmates don’t realize is that part of what makes Zinkoff so wonderfully unique is that he either doesn’t realize he’s different or just doesn’t care, and he gives his all to everything he does. He may be messy and clumsy, but he’s also kind and hardworking, and those are the traits people will remember him for in the end. A great read for the kid who feels like he just doesn’t fit in, or to teach kids about being kind to people who seem different from them. (Side note: Spinelli’s novel Stargirl is also an excellent “bully” book for older readers, all about being yourself no matter what other people think.)
There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, by Louis Sachar
“Give me a dollar or I’ll spit on you.” That’s what Bradley Chalkers says to the new kid in his class, and that’s why nobody likes Bradley Chalkers. He’s the biggest, meanest kid in the fifth grade. Nobody likes Bradley—except Carla, the new school counselor. Carla teaches Bradley how to see himself, and his classmates, in a different way. But Bradley can’t have Carla around all the time, and he’ll have to trust in himself to be his best without her. Sachar’s book takes a unique approach in that it tells the story from the bully’s perspective, and as a result shows that sometimes being “the bully” can hurt much more than being bullied.
Wonder, by R. J. Palacio
Auggie Pullman is a 10-year-old boy with a rare facial deformity who, after being homeschooled for most of his life, starts at a traditional school for the first time. Although he makes a few friends who don’t care that he looks “different,” not everyone is kind about the way Auggie looks. Told from multiple perspectives, this book is a wonderful lesson in inclusion and not judging someone for the way they look.