Creating a positive classroom culture is such an important part of teaching. If we can create a space where kids are comfortable enough to try their best, make mistakes, and be themselves, learning to read and writing stories will come so much more easily.
I truly believe that introducing topics early, building social awareness, and guiding our students to be considerate of one another is the best way to handle bullying. It gives us all a common language and a goal of who we want to be. Prevention like this can save so much hurt and build a classroom community for the entire year! It’s also not a bad idea for parents and families to engage in conversations about bullying with their child. And books can be a great way to start that!
My goal is to reach as many students as possible in a way that is meaningful for each of them. I like to use books to present ideas, both new and familiar, to foster whole class discussions. For some students, pointing out how their behavior affects the way others see them is helpful. For others, showing them how they make another person feel is enough to make them think twice. Some students just need to be reminded that it’s okay (and encouraged!) to be unique.
Each of these books tackles bullying and kindness from a different angle because all of our students are different
I love using these books about bullying and kindness at the beginning of the school year. And I also bring them out when I see a need for a refresher on one of these lessons. I feel like it's a topic you can never read too many books about bullying!
I will hear “Oh I remember that book!” which I love. That means they remember the story. We can read it again with a focus on empathy, kindness, and the lesson that needs to be learned from different perspectives and characters’ points of view.
THE RECESS QUEEN
by Alexis O’Neill
Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith
This book addresses bullying in a really engaging, entertaining way that is still relatable to my students. Mean Jean is the Recess Queen. She bullies everyone on the playground. They are all scared of her until a new student, Katie Sue comes to town. This new student doesn’t know to be scared of Jean so when recess comes, she plays. Jean tries to bully her but Katie Sue resists. Instead she invites Jean to play. And guess what? No one has EVER done that before.
This book teaches kids two really important lessons: one, when you bully people to get your way, you isolate yourself; and two, a lot of times when someone is being mean, they really just want to be seen and invited.
STICK AND STONE
by Beth Ferry
Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
This book is a perfect 10 in my opinion. It is simple, has beautiful illustrations, and gets an important message across in very few words. Stick and Stone are alone and lonely. Then they meet each other. One day, Pinecone makes fun of Stone. He won’t leave Stone alone. “Vanish,” says Stick. That one little word is all it takes. The bully goes away. Now Stick and Stone are together and happy. They are the very best of friends. We do see Pinecone again later and, unsurprisingly, he is very unhappy.
Pinecone was a bully, but he is not a main character of this story. This is such a powerful message. Pinecone was mean, sure. He had a moment where he felt like he had won. He laughed for a minute, but he did not get the joy of friendship. Being unkind to another person may feel good in the moment. It may make you feel powerful or cool, but being kind gets you something that is much, much better: friendship.
I walk with VANESSA
This book is really special because it has no words. It is only illustrations. That means the readers get to fill in the blanks. We can infer how what the problem is, why someone is doing or not doing something and how someone is feeling. This can open up so much dialogue between students and caregivers to talk about bullying.
So much of bullying prevention is encouraging kids to think about each other. This books gives them the chance to think about Vanessa and empathize with her. You may hear students say “She’s sad” or “She’s alone.” You may hear them say “he’s mean” about the bully. These are opportunities to dive deeper into the roots of those emotions. “Why is she sad?” “What makes him mean?” We latch onto ideas and concepts better if we are the ones talking. Giving students the chance to explain why the characters feel the way they do allows them to take ownership of the conversation.
SPAGHETTI IN A HOT DOG BUN
by Maria Dismondy
Illustrated by Kim Shaw
Lucy is unique and that really bothers Ralph. He makes fun of every strange thing about her, including the fact that she likes to eat spaghetti in a hot dog bun at lunchtime. Lucy has the courage to be herself anyway, and when Ralph needs help, she’s there for him.
I like books about bullying like this, to talk about how sometimes other people can bully because they are jealous that you are being yourself. Other people try to hide unique things about themselves sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you should. It also doesn’t mean that you should feel bad when they say hurtful things. You definitely shouldn’t change who you are.
by Kevin Henkes
Chrysanthemum has a name that is just as special as she is. Her parents tell her so all of the time. On the first day of school, other kids say that it’s too long and laugh that she is named after a flower. Chrysanthemum’s parents try to make her feel better each day when she gets home, but it is not until her music teacher compliments her in front of the other students that Chrysanthemum gains back her confidence.
I read this book on the first day of school every year. I want to impress upon my students from the very first day, that unkind words are really hurtful and absolutely not tolerated. I also want to teach my students that all it takes is one person standing up for another to completely change a situation. If they see or hear something unkind, they can stop it by stepping in.
by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
I always recommend reading any book to yourself first before reading it to a class, but this time I insist that you read it first. This book is powerful and emotional. You want to be prepared for the discussion before you read it aloud. The lesson of this story is that each kindness makes the world a little better. You may miss some opportunities to do the right thing, but that doesn’t mean you should miss the next chance.
Chloe misses her chance to show kindness to the new girl, Maya, and when Maya suddenly moves, Chloe realizes her mistake. Unfortunately, it’s too late to make it right. Every time I read this story, my class is silent when it’s over. They want to know what happened to Maya, but there is not an answer. That can be a really hard conversation with our students, but its necessary.
The unknown is what makes this story such a powerful bullying prevention book. I am always so glad I read this one.
MY SECRET BULLY
by Trudy Ludwig
Illustrated by Abigail Marble
In this book, Monica and Katie have been friends since kindergarten, but sometimes Katie is mean. Monica loves spending time with Katie when she’s kind, but she doesn’t understand why Katie isn’t always this way. Katie sometimes calls Monica names, and manipulates, embarrasses, and excludes her. Monica’s mom helps her learn ways to cope and even THRIVE, as she addresses her fears head on. Monica takes back all of the power from her bully!
Trudy Ludwig highlights relational aggression in this story, to show children that bullying can even come in unexpected forms, like from a “friend.” It is one of my favorite books about bullying, because it is a helpful tool for counselors, teachers, and parents, to help teach children about emotional bullying and how to address it.
by Julia Cook
Illustrated by Anita DuFalla
In Bully Beans, Bobbette, the bully is always threatening students at her school. Finally, one little girl tells her mom about Bobbette. Her mom gives her special “bully beans” to eat to be able to stand up to the bully. The children at school learn that they can be courageous and face bullies. Julia Cook uses an easy acrostic and many examples to teach young children ways to stop bullying.
Many books about bullying target the bully or the person being bullied, but his book highlights the bystander of bullying. It is a great introduction to this hard topic of bullying for young readers.
JUICE BOX BULLY
by Bob Sornson and Maria Dismondy
Illustrated by Kim Shaw
In Juice Box Bully, A little boy named Pete goes to a new school and starts to bully others. When the other kids see what he’s doing, they decide to get involved instead of being bystanders. Pete’s peers teach him about “The Promise”. Pete has to decide if he will continue to be a bully or choose to make “The Promise.”
Children learn the power in standing up for others, while also giving clear examples of how to approach bullies. The illustrations seen in this book show diversity in the students, and help more children relate to the concept, as they listen or read along.
by Trudy Ludwig
Illustrated by Adam Gustavson
In this book called Just Kidding, DJ is being teased by another boy named Vince at school. Vince says hurtful comments to DJ but shrugs them off each time by saying “just kidding.” DJ is nervous to tell anyone how he feels because he might be viewed as a “tattletale.” One day after DJ becomes upset at home, he decides to talk to his dad about the bullying. DJ’s dad helps him by teaching him a strategy to use when Vince speaks in this way to him. DJ’s teacher also supports him by teaching him the difference between tattling and reporting. She encourages DJ to spend time with classmates who make him feel good, instead of ones who speak negatively to him.
This story highlights bullying between two boys and the emotional effects it can have. Although, the concept can be viewed through a girl’s lens as well. Sometimes boys (girls as well) feel reluctant to speak about their feelings.
The story models how talking to your parents can support you in finding strategies to remedy the situation. Also, in the story it shows how talking with teachers and adults at school can be effective in getting support. This can be a great story to use to understand what tattling is, versus when it is something that is important to speak with an adult about. The pictures and words depicted in this book are strong and help relay the message clearly to young readers.
by Patricia Palacco
Lyla and Jamie become great friends on the first day of sixth grade. Lyla makes the cheerleading team, and the “popular girls” invite her to join them. Lyla realizes that Jamie is left behind. She sees them teasing Jamie and other classmates on Facebook, and she knows that being a part of their friend group isn’t for her. The popular girls don’t stop easily though, and are now out for revenge.
This book speaks to a very relevant topic in today’s society – cyberbullying. Students now have so much more complex bullying situations to decipher, and Patricia Pollaco rises to the occasion with Bully. In the end, she displays a girl who chooses to stand up for her friend, despite the potential repercussions.
WE’RE ALL WONDERS
by R.J. Palacio
Auggie is the main character in We’re All Wonders. He only has one eye. Auggie tells how it feels when he is treated poorly because of his facial difference. His mom tells him that he is a “wonder,” and he encourages children to recognize that they all have their own “wonder” too.
This is one of the great books about bullying to introduce bullying to young students. The illustrations are cartoon-like and sure to help keep readers engaged. The examples and explanations the main character gives, are direct and helpful for young minds to process the topic with ease. It’s great for helping young students to empathize with the character. We often want to teach empathy to our students when we talk about bullying.
THE INVISIBLE BOY
by Trudy Ludwig
Illustrated by Patrice Barton
Brian feels like an invisible boy. No one ever seems to notice him or choose to include him in their events or groups. All of this changes when a new boy joins the class. Brian is the first student to welcome Justin, and they soon begin to work together on assignments. Brian begins to stand out for his act of kindness.
This book highlights the small ways that kindness can impact others and help them feel included. It is a great book to have on hand to address the needs of quieter children in your classroom or school.
Teaching children about bullying through literacy is effective and fun! I highly encourage teachers, caregivers, and parents to read books like these with children before a situation might happen. However, even if you do find your child in a situation where they are being bullied or they might be unknowingly bullying someone else using children’s literature like the books in the list can be a great way to help them understand.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jenn Adams is a special education and elementary teacher living and work in Pennsylvania. She has taught in multiple classrooms, grade levels and settings including regular education, special education, and alternative education. She has taught grades Pre-K, 1st, and 5th-12.Currently, Jenn works for a public cyber charter school teaching students in grades 5th through 8th in an autistic support virtual classroom. Jenn obtained her Bachelor’s degree in elementary and early childhood education in 2007 from Millersville University. She also obtained her Master’s degree in 2014 in special education from Saint Joseph’s University. Jenn also added the credentials of becoming a registered behavior technician (RBt) working closely with students with autism and intellectual disabilities working with principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. Lastly, Jenn is currently pursuing her principal’s certificate from California University of PA. In her 14 years in education she truly has found that building relationships is what needs to come first and loves learning new ways to reach her students. During her time not spent in the classroom Jenn conducts parent training with colleagues in the special education field and provides information through her blog, website, and social media channels all called Teach Love Autism. Jenn also works hard every day to find a work and life balance and believes that is the key to happiness in doing what you love.
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