More thoughts on books, bullying and standing up


The last time I posted on this blog, I said I’d gone into a fifth grade and discussed Cynthia Levinson’s book We’ve Got a Job and we all talked about how it takes courage to face down a bully, in this case a political system that bullied an entire group of people. The students and I discussed how frightening it is to be bullied and how it makes them feel. They had a lot to say on the subject of bullying and being kept down and wrote so many comments I couldn’t post them all in one column so I’m posting more today.  But first, I wanted to recommend some additional books that contain story elements reflecting some element of bullying. If you’re a teacher or parent, you might want to direct interested people to the following books. Even as I put out this list, I realize that I’ve also written quite a bit about books with bullying themes on this blog. So you might want to refer back to those blogs. But here’s a great list to help start discussions of the many aspects of bullying and dealing with it:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part time Indian (Little Brown Books for Young Readers) by Sherman Alexie 19.99

Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer (Speak) 8.99

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 15.99

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L Holm (Yearling) 6.99

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Yearling) 6.99

Jumped by Rita Williams-garcia (Amistad) $16.99

It’s surprising how many fifth graders wrote about being bullied by siblings, much the way Jack Gantos writes about family bullying in his own books. Fifth grade student J. wrote, “I have been afraid to speak out to a bully, particularly my brother. He’s been bullying me since I was five years old and I’m all right now.” As all right as J. says he is, he adds, “It makes me feel lonely and sad.” J. eventually spoke to his brother and “he has more respect for me.” B. didn’t speak up when he witnessed someone bullying his brother “…and the bully was an adult and I wish I would have spoken up.”


But there are school bullies and neighborhood bullies reflected in novels such as Eighth Grade Bites, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian When You Reach Me and Jumped. The fifth graders respond to how it feels to be the victim. D. says, “Some of my very best friends are the ones who are the meanest because they think they can say or do whatever they want. But they can’t because even if they’re friends, they can hurt you.”  E. said, “I’ve been bullied because of my speech, something I couldn’t control. I felt that I was worse than the others even though I’m just as good as others no matter what I do because in my heart I really do believe I am a good person.” L. said, “I have been bullied a lot and it makes me feel bad that I don’t stand up for myself.”

In some instances, it may be difficult to recognize our own actions are actually bullying. Laughing at someone else’s bad luck, for instance, was listed by some students as bullying. J. says, “One time my friend got locked out of a building and people were standing by the door and just standing there laughing.” J. also recognized that sometimes bullying takes care of itself. “My neighbors were making fun of me. But only when their friends were around (so that’s why I wasn’t made when they moved away.)

The need to be in control, just as different girls are trying to control their own lives in Jumped was reflected in a few of the fifth grade comments. “I have been bullied a couple of times before by a group of kids [who] think they are ‘really cool.’ What they were trying to do was follow a kid so they wouldn’t be teased.”

Just as some characters in novels avoid bullying by remaining quiet, the students recognize this is a way to avoid being a target. A. wrote, “You have to decide between feeling bad about what will happen to the person or you’ll end up being bullied.” F. said, “I have witnessed circumstances in which children are bullied many times before, but when handled by the victim, I don’t often speak up. Maybe not because of fear, but instead it’s dealt with.” She adds, “I feel sad and somewhat mad that I don’t know how to respond.” C. said, “They judge you for what you think.” But some of the fifth graders have learned the value of sorting their feelings and how to cope with difficult situations. M. wrote, “It almost felt like I had to change my whole personality but right when I was about to, I realized that you have all the power to stick up for yourself…”



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