Top 10 Books (and Media) About Bullying

Guest post by Holly Burdorff, Special Assistant to the COO, TASC, and Phoebe Westwood, Program Coordinator for Literacy, TASC.

Earlier this week, we gave you a few reading lists and tips that can help you start conversations with kids about bullying. If you haven’t had time to parse through all that information, we’ve picked out a few recommendations:

Phoebe’s Picks for Grades K-5

> Chrysanthemum by Hevin Henkes explores a young child’s experience when she is repeatedly picked on by her peers because of her unusual name. This picture book reminds adults and children that differences are valuable, and it illustrates the important role adults can play in helping children to appreciate those differences.

> Roscoe Riley Rules #2: Never Swipe a Bully’s Bear, a chapter book for young readers, shows that bullying is not always black-and-white, even in a first-grade classroom. The classmate who seems to be the bully might be just a bystander, while the narrator has to come to terms with his own bully-like behavior. Written by Katherine Applegate. Illustrated by Brian Biggs.

> In Thank You, Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco, Trisha’s emotional struggle with learning to read as an upper elementary school student is compounded by the bullying she endures from her classmates. This picture book for older readers is based on the author’s childhood, and it honestly presents bullying as just one aspect of a child’s experience.

> Say Something presents bullying from the perspective of a bystander, who eventually gets picked on herself. Realizing that she wanted support from her friends, she decides to reach out to a peer who had previously been picked on, too. Children will identify with the empathy displayed in this story, and they might agree that it can be difficult to relate to others if you haven’t been in the same situation. Written by Peggy Moss. Illustrated by Lea Lyon.

Phoebe’s Picks for Grades 6-8

> Crash by Jerry Spinelli explores the complex issues of bullying from the perspective of the aggressor, who might not be confined to that role after all. The book can also serve as a forum for middle-school students to think about the importance of looking beyond assumptions based on others’ values or beliefs.

> In The Bully, by Paul Langan, a 9th grade boy who moves across the country during the school year must learn to stand up to the bully at his new school. This young adult novel is part of the Bluford High series, which explores not only bulling, but a range of issues relevant to middle-school and high-school-age students.

> In The Misfits, by James Howe, a small group of seventh-graders who have been routinely picked on by their peers throughout the school years finally ban together to stand up for themselves and create school-wide change. Teen readers will hopefully have a lot to say about what happens when peers work together to improve something that matters to them.

Holly’s Picks for Grades 9-12
Things get complicated when it comes to teens, especially because teen-geared media often contains content that many find objectionable. So, with a big warning disclaimer, here’s what I’ve enjoyed in the past:

> The Harry Potter series: Nobody would ever merely describe this series as “books about bullying,” but bullying relationships of every kind are woven throughout all seven texts. Hogwarts is cluttered with a wide variety of power dynamics—between older students and younger, between professors, between professors and students—the list goes on. Older readers will appreciate how J.K. Rowling deftly re-casts her aggressors into targets, then into bystanders, and back again, and vice versa.

> Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak is widely regarded as a seminal text on youth empowerment and on coping with a sudden onslaught of bullying in a school environment. The novel has heavy themes—it deals heavily with issues of sexual assault—and it frequently makes its way onto banned/challenged books lists.

> I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Freaks and Geeks. It is not a book, but it’s a smart, nuanced television show that, I think, ‘reads” as a literary text. This show ran for one year (’99-00) on NBC and is now a cult classic and critical favorite; in regards to bullying, its strength lies in connecting greater socioeconomic forces to the lives of bullies and their targets. (Note: I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Glee. And Mean Girls. And Everybody Loves Chris. And 30 Rock’s “Reunion” episode.)

What are your favorite books and media on this topic?