Books on Bullying

Bullying by Susan Fry

Everywhere I go, parents talk about how common bullying is these days. There’s a lot of discussion about the differences between boy (physical) and girl (psychological) bullying. And let’s not forget the “silent” bullying of exclusion, which can be just as devastating as insults.

I don’t know whether it’s worse to have a child who is bullied, or to slowly realize that your child is the one causing the problems. But from what I’ve seen, the results are the same – even the bullies can feel worthless and terrified of school. Nobody likes a bully, least of all the bully.

These books may offer some coping strategies for everyone involved – the bully, the victim, and the “innocent” friends.

One, by Kathryn Otoshi. One’s “characters” are paint smudges – watercolor dots of blue, yellow, green, and red. Red, a bully, towers over Blue and tells him, “Red is hot. Blue is not.” The other colors sympathize but do nothing. Finally, the number “One” appears and stands up to Red. Inspired, the other colors, even Blue, change from dots to numbers.

Even grownups might be frightened by Red’s reaction – instead of backing down, an enormous Red, depicted in violent swirls of bright paint, tries to roll over the little Blue Six. Only when the other numbers surround him does Red shrink down. But just as he’s about to roll away, the other colors remind him that “everyone counts,” and “Red” (now the number 7), “laughed and joined the fun.”

Most bullying won’t be solved so easily. But One presents the problems clearly, and the abstract characters might make kids more comfortable discussing a painful topic.

The Recess Queen, by Alexis O’Neill, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith. Mean Jean the Recess Queen holds her class in a constant state of terror. “If kids ever crossed her, she’d push ‘em and smoosh ‘em.” Then, one day, Katie Sue, a new girl, changes everything. She “swung before Mean Jean swung . . . . bounced before Mean Jean bounced.” When Mean Jean confronts her, and the other children gasp in fear, Katie Sue brings out a jump rope and asks Mean Jean to play. No one has asked Mean Jean to play before. Soon, Mean Jean is playing with everyone. The illustrations are wild, energetic swoops of color, with the kids’ smiling mouths taking up most of their faces.

Disappearing Desmond, by Anna Alter. Though not about bullying, Disappearing Desmond may be just the right tool to battle exclusion – or even ordinary shyness. Desmond, a cat with a timid little smile, is “hard to spot.” He deliberately blends into the background – dressed as a statue in an art museum, hiding under an umbrella at the beach, or sheltered behind a snowman in the winter. “Sometimes, even his teacher could not find him.” But one day, a new student, the extroverted Gloria, starts saying “Hi.” She asks Desmond to play. Soon, “he couldn’t remember why he ever wanted to disappear in the first place.” My favorite part is watching the now-outgoing Desmond bring another boy, Harold, out of hiding. On the last page, kids will enjoy finding all the other “hidden” children on the playground. The illustrations are blocky, like warmly colored woodcuts, with a slightly retro feel.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications. You will find links to all of her children’s book reviews on our Toys & Books page.

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