How Books Help Children Understand Bullying and Regain Self-Esteem

At least 75 percent of children get bullied. Bullying includes name-calling, exclusion from activities, spreading rumors, intimidation, hitting, kicking, sexual harassment, cyber-bullying, rape, and murder. Such abuse can occur in schools and everywhere else. Reading good books helps children understand bullying and gives kids ideas for dealing with tyrants and for repairing wounded self-esteem.

I have firsthand experience with bullying. When I entered kindergarten as a new student, the other children refused to play with me. One girl taunted me every day because I was thin. Also, a boy in the class threw stones at me. Because of this abuse, I believed that I was an ugly misfit. It took decades for these inner wounds to heal.

As an adult, I found out that my friends and neighbors had also been bullied for being overweight, wearing glasses, being tall or short, being clumsy, being a poor student, having a different skin color or culture, being poor, having a handicap, etc. If we want a multi-cultural society that respects differences, we need to teach children that we will not tolerate such attacks.

My fiction picture book How the Moon Regained Her Shape is based on my experiences with bullying and recovery. The sun insults the moon, telling her that she is an “ugly scarecrow” and that no one needs her. The moon is so hurt by this bullying that she shrinks and leaves her orbit. With the help of her comet friend and many friends on earth, the moon regains her self-esteem and returns to the sky.

Good literature helps children to cope with bullying. As a child, I loved Hans Christian Anderson’s story “The Ugly Duckling.” Anderson emphasizes that a taunted creature can grow and transform itself into a respected and beautiful creature. In Judy Blume’s novel Blubber, Jill Brenner begins as a bully but learns how painful abuse can be when her fickle classmates bully her. Like the ugly duckling, Jill undergoes a transformation: she realizes that bullying is cruel and defends another child and herself from a classroom of bullies. Blume implies that kids need to stand up against tormentors and refuse to cooperate with a group’s attacks. A similar novel from a boy’s perspective is Jerry Spinelli’s Crash. Crash bullies the people around him until his grandfather has a debilitating stroke. Then Crash gets in touch with his own softer side and questions his egotism and machismo. These books can generate good discussions for schools, teams, and Scout troops.

Such books help a child to imagine the experiences of a bullied person and to feel sympathy. They also show children that people can make choices that enable them to grow and change in positive ways. Finally, great literature for children demonstrates that we need to retain our self-esteem, even if everyone bullies us. All of us have an inner swan or full moon that is beautiful and worthy of respect.

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 Artist: Ben Hodson, Publisher: Sylvan Dell


Artist: Ben Hodson, Publisher: Sylvan Dell

Janet Ruth Heller wrote the award-winning children’s book about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Sylvan Dell, 2006), the poetry books Folk Concert: Changing Times (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012) and Traffic Stop (Finishing Line Press, 2011), and the scholarly book Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (University of Missouri Press, 1990). She is president of the Michigan College English Association.

For Janet’s scholarly article about current research on bullying and novels that help children with bullying, please see http://ijee.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/44.9014106.pdf  Her e-mail is janetheller@charter.net and her website is http://www.redroom.com/author/janet-ruth-heller.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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One Response to How Books Help Children Understand Bullying and Regain Self-Esteem

  1. Liz Love says:

    Thank goodness for people like you! We need as many books like this as we can get our hands on.
    As you so clearly point out they make wonderful points for discussion. If teachers frequently read books like yours to children from an early age we would have a much greater chance of stamping out bullying in its early stages.

    I work as a literacy teacher of both children and adults. Tragically the adults that come to me can’t read. Nor can many of them spell their children’s names. Many have been bullied because of their literacy problems.

    Often the first thing they want to learn when they come to me is to read to their children.
    If this is what they want, then this is my first priority. I teach them using phonics. If If you are wondering how you can find out more on phonics-literacy.com
    I test for gaps in their knowledge and fill each gap until they can decode words and read. But just as exciting, they develop self-esteem, something they have lacked for most of their lives. Thankfully by this time their own memories of bullying have faded and they can protect the next generation with your message.

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