Every now and then, I like to do a “round up” of children’s books on various topics. Since October is Bullying Prevention Month, I thought it might be helpful if I found some books on that subject. Children and preteens who are bullied are more likely to experience mental health and substance abuse challenges that can last into adulthood, and the first step toward preventing this is to help kids identify what bullying looks like.
Bullying can be:
- verbal (threatening, name-calling)
- social (spreading rumors, leaving someone out)
- physical (hitting, pushing, spitting)
Bullying always involves:
- repeated acts
- an imbalance of power
One idea for helping kids understand what bullying looks like AND what to do about it is to read age-appropriate books on the subject. Sometimes these books can even be helpful for parents who are struggling to come up with the right words to use. Below is a list of books that I’ve personally read, with notes on the pros and cons of reading them. My favorites are indicated with asterisks.
Recommendations for Young Children (Ages 4-7)
Bully – Jennifer Sattler
Synopsis: A bullfrog chases insects out of a pond so he can have all the lilies for himself.
Pro: The “underdogs” join together to stand up to the bullfrog; book includes a note on kindness at the end
Con: If you’re looking for a book where the bully learns a lesson, that doesn’t happen here.
**Marlene Marlene Queen of Mean – Jane Lynch
Synopsis: A child (Marlene) pushes other kids around by teasing and pinching them. Other children begin to stand up to her, and she changes her ways.
Pro: fun read – rhymes and is catchy
**Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun – Maria Dismondy
Synopsis: Lucy is teased often by Ralph. She stands up to him and with her grandfather’s advice, shows him compassion. Ralph comes around and is nicer.
Pro: Charming illustrations, wise grandpa that reminds Lucy we all have feelings. Celebrates uniqueness.
Bully – Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Synopsis: A bull yells at and sends away other animals, and is hurt when he gets called a bully. He makes amends.
Pro: We see the bully apologize and everyone gets along.
Con: Although it says it’s aimed for kids up to age 7, it seems more appropriate for very young kids – very simple story
Recommendations for Preteens (Ages 8-12)
**Smart Girl’s Guide: Friendship Troubles – Patti Kelley Criswell
Synopsis: Not a story, but a guide on navigating common struggles with friends, such as being left out, fights, jealousy, etc.
Pro: Includes helpful quizzes, appropriate advice from peers, and describes how bullying may look different in girls than in boys
Con: Definitely aimed at girls
Awkward – Svetlana Chmakova
Synopsis: Penelope gets teased by her classmates for being a “nerd’s” girlfriend. Penelope is unkind to the boy in an effort to fit in, and later apologizes and they become friends.
Pro: Format is a graphic novel, very relatable story
Con: The “bullying” is one small scene – most of the book is about other events and situations that Penelope experiences.
Sticks and Stones – Abby Cooper
Synopsis: 6th grade Elyse has a (fictitious) medical condition in which names and words used to describe her appear on her skin. Unkind words feel itchy and painful, while kind ones feel pleasant. Elyse’s best friend leaves her for a more popular group, and they use name-calling and social isolation. Elyse manages to make a new friend and accepts herself for how she is.
Pro: Powerful metaphor of Elyse’s condition to how words can hurt us and stick with us for a long time; discusses the importance of accepting oneself.
Blubber – Judy Blume
Synopsis: Middle school girl Jill, in an effort to be liked by popular kids, joins a melee of tormenting another girl about her weight. The bullies later align with the “victim” and turn on Jill.
Pro: Shows how the tide can quickly change with bullying – aggressors can become victims, and vice versa.
Con: While Jill experiences a bit of bullying too, it’s far less than what she perpetrates against the original victim – it’s questionable whether any lesson was learned, and there is no atonement from Jill. In addition, the bullying is quite intense, and we see the “victim” start to restrict her eating in order to fit in.