"The End of Bullying Begins With Me": Bullying Prevention Books for Young Mighty Girls

Posted on October 22, 2014 by Katherine

By Katherine Handcock, A Mighty Girl Communications Specialist

hundred-dresses“The End of Bullying Begins With Me” is the message of National Bullying Prevention Month and at A Mighty Girl we believe that’s absolutely true! By teaching our children about bullying — what it is, the effects it has on everyone, and the ways that we can stop it — we can work to ensure that bullying becomes a smaller and smaller part of all our lives.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a series of three blogs featuring great Mighty Girl anti-bullying resources for all ages. In this first part of the series, we’ll showcase books for preschool and early school-aged children that address bullying from a variety of angles, while in the two remaining blogs, we’ll talk about resources for tweens and teens and resources for parents and educators.

For Mighty Girl books on bullying prevention for older girls, check out our post,Taking a Stand Against Bullying: Bullying Prevention Books for Tweens and Teens. For bullying prevention resources for adults, visit our post, Leading the Way: Bullying Prevention Books for Parents and Educators.

Of course, these are just a selection of the great anti-bullying books out there. For more books for all ages on bullying, visit our Top Books on Bullying Prevention for Mighty Girls special feature or our Bullying / Teasing section.

Another Person’s Shoes: Teaching Empathy

For the youngest Mighty Girls, bullying behaviors can happen because they’re still learning that others have feelings like their own. While empathy is natural, it’s also a skill that can be improved with practice. By reading these books with your Mighty Girl, you can help her develop her understanding of what it’s like to be another person and how it would feel to be the victim of teasing or bullying.

Todd Parr’s It’s Okay To Be Different for ages 1 - 5 is a great place to start. With his distinctive, bright illustrations, Parr tackles all the differences that kids observe in the people around them from skin color to family makeup to favorite foods and activities. His message of acceptance will remind your Mighty Girl that differences are what make us special. 51y5pUJlXDL._SL500_AA300_[1]

For another excellent way to explore empathy with children, Have You Filled A Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud (age 4- 8) uses the metaphor of invisible buckets to describe self-esteem. McCloud teaches kids that everyone has one of these buckets, and that people feel good when the bucket is full and sad or angry when it’s empty. By showing how you can “fill” a bucket (through kindness, compassion, and appreciation of others) or “dip” from a bucket (by being mean or exclusionary), kids can easily understand how their actions affect others’ emotions.

Sometimes kids find it hard to understand a person who is different from them. In Odd Velvet by Mary E. Whitcomb (age 3 - 8), the kids at school don’t know what to make of Velvet, who brings a milkweed pod to show and tell and likes to collect rocks. At first, they avoid this confusing child. But when Velvet wins an art competition after drawing a picture with only eight crayons, her peers start to understand that Velvet’s unique, imaginative view of the world is what makes her an interesting friend! BIGM cover reprint F.indd

Even small differences can attract attention among kids, whose experiences of the world are so limited. In Kevin Henkes’ Chrysanthemum (age 3 - 8), Chrysanthemum’s beautiful name attracts negative attention when she goes to school, where everyone else has “normal” names like Victoria, Sue, Max, and Bill. Hearing the other kids mock her for her “flower” name makes Chrysanthemum totally miserable — until their music teacher, Miss Delphinium Twinkle, shows her and her classmates how varied the people in the world are, and that “normal” is just a word.

Trudy Ludwig, an active member of the International Bullying Prevention Association, wrote Trouble Talk (age 6 - 9) to illustrate how comments that can seem funny can still be hurtful. Maya’s friend Bailey loves to spread rumors about the troubles in other children’s lives, but when Bailey hears Maya’s parents fighting and turns it into a rumor that they’re going to get divorced, Maya realizes how painful this “trouble talk” can be. Both the school counselor’s advice to be friends with “kids who make you feel safe,” and seeing how hard Bailey has to work to heal the hurt feelings she’s caused, are good lessons for school-aged kids.

And it’s important for children to understand that, sometimes, you don’t have an opportunity to make up for the pain you’ve caused. In the classic book The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (age 6 - 10), classmates sneer at Wanda for wearing the same faded dress every day. Wanda’s insistence — obviously a lie — that she has a hundred beautiful dresses at home only earns her more derision from her peers. Then her father sends a letter to her teacher that they’re leaving town because of the mockery the whole family has suffered. And Maddie, a classmate who never joined in — but never stopped it, either — realizes that she can never apologize for what people said to Wanda. Ashamed at how she aided Wanda’s torment, Maddie resolves that she is “never going to stand by and say nothing again.” Each+Kindness[1]

Similarly, in Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness (age 5 and up), Chloe and her friends won’t play with Maya, who wears hand-me-down clothes and plays with old toys. No matter how many times Maya asks to play, they say no and eventually, Maya stops asking. Soon after, Maya moves away. When Chloe’s teacher shows how a stone thrown in the river creates ripples throughout the water, and invites her students to think about how small kindnesses might affect the world in unexpected ways, Chloe has a revelation — she can’t think of a single time that she was kind to Maya, and now that Maya is gone, the opportunity to offer her even a small kindness is gone forever. However, the book also ends with a positive implication: if everyone resolves to extend kindness to everyone they meet, the ripples will extend around the world.

For a truly unique set of books that explore the thoughts and feelings of victim, bystander, and bully, check out The Weird! Series by Erin Frankel. This series of three books, all for ages 5 - 9, tells the story of the same instance of bullying through the eyes of the three participants. The basic outline of the story is that Luisa is teased by popular girl Sam for everything from speaking Spanish with her family to wearing polka-dot boots. Jayla, a friend of Sam’s, initially joins in, but eventually refuses to participate any longer and befriends Luisa. Within each book, though, details are revealed about the emotional lives of the three girls involved.

In Weird!, free-spritied Luisa loses confidence and starts to withdraw from activities she loves because of Sam’s bullying until support from others, especially Jayla, gives her the courage to be herself. In Dare!, we learn that Jayla has been Sam's target before, which is why she reluctantly participates in teasing Luisa. However, because Jayla understands how painful teasing is, she develops the courage to stand up to Sam. In Tough!, we find out that Sam is tormented by her brother at home and believes that meanness is part of everyday life. But when Jayla stands up to Sam, she rethinks how she treats others — and how to feel better about herself. Reading these three books is sure to generate thought-provoking discussion, whether it’s between yourself and your Mighty Girl, or in a whole classroom of children.

Beginning With Me: Dealing With Bullies

Of course, even if your Mighty Girl knows that bullying is wrong, she’ll need some guidance about how to handle a bully. These books will give you an opportunity to talk about different ways to handle a bullying situation, whether your Mighty Girl is a bystander or the target of the bullying. Spaghetti in A Hot Dog Bun

In Willow Finds A Way by Lana Button (age 3 - 8), the class is excited when Kristabelle starts handing out invitations to her amazing birthday party. But then Kristabelle starts pushing people around, using the threat of taking invitations away. Willow can’t find the words to tell Kristabelle how mean she’s being, but she demonstrates her disapproval by crossing her own name off the invitation list. And when the rest of the class joins her, and Kristabelle realizes what a mistake she’s made, it’s Willow who leads the class in welcoming back their friend. This story about the power of the bystander is a great way to talk about taking action, as well as to remind kids that mistakes can be forgiven if you show you’re sorry.

Spaghetti in a Hotdog Bun by Maria Dismondy (age 3 - 8) has a similar message about the value of kindness. Ralph makes fun of Lucy for everything, from her curly hair to her favorite snack. Lucy remembers her grandfather’s advice that not everyone has to like the same things, but Ralph keeps hurting Lucy’s feelings, even when she tells him to stop. When Ralph ends up tangled in the monkey bars, though, Lucy realizes that right now, he’s not a bully, just a scared, upset boy who needs help. After she helps Ralph get down, he realizes that kindness and compassion are what matter, not the differences between people. my-secret-bully

Freckleface Strawberry and the Dodgeball Bully by Julianne Moore (age 4 - 8) features a Mighty Girl who refuses to be intimidated by a bully. Freckleface Strawberry loves her early morning program at school...except when it rains, which means playing dodgeball inside with Windy Pants Patrick, the school bully. She tries to ignore him, but one day, she comes face to face with Windy Pants — alone. Fortunately, by summoning up her inner monster, she’s able to overcome her fear of the dodgeball and the bully. And when she does, she discovers that he isn’t as scary as she thought.

In The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill (age 4 and up), it’s a new classmate who turns the bullying situation upside down. Mary Jean is The Recess Queen — people do what she says, or else! But when a tiny girl names Katie-Sue arrives, she does what she wants. Mary Jean is on her way to a meltdown when Katie-Sue does something REALLY surprising: she asks Mary Jean to jump rope with her! Soon, the two girls are playing happily as are the rest of the kids on the playground. This book not only shows that sometimes bullying can be resolved without adult intervention, but also casts a light on one aspect of bullying: sometimes bullies are bullies because they’re not sure how to be friends. Sometimes bullies are more subtle than Mary Jean or Windy Pants Patrick.

In My Secret Bully by Tracy Ludwig (age 5 - 8), Monica and Katie have been friends for years, but now, Katie embarrasses or excludes Monica in front of their classmates. Monica is hurt and confused — why would her friend do such a thing? Fortunately, with some help from her supportive mother, Monica learns that Katie is making Monica feel worse to make herself feel better. With a few strategies to handle Katie, Monica feels confident again. One of the few books for younger children that addresses more subtle relational aggression, this book firmly drives home the message that no one deserves to be the target of this behavior.

Bully-cover-web[1]In the past, kids could escape bullies when they went home from school, but now it’s important to acknowledge that bullying can extend beyond the schoolyard. In Bully by Patricia Polacco (age 7 - 12), Jamie befriends Lyla, a newcomer to the sixth grade, and helps her get a cell phone and a Facebook page to feel more connected. Jamie’s advice works — so well that, when Lyla makes the cheerleading squad, she becomes part of the popular crowd. But Lyla realizes that the popular girls are cyberbullying people, including Jamie, and refuses to be a part of it. Then the bullying really hits high gear as the popular girls take their revenge on Lyla. The end of the book is the question “What would you do?”, making this perfect for generating discussion; its emphasis on the challenge of cyberbullying also makes a good prompt for discussing Internet safety.

If stories like these are too realistic for your Mighty Girl, a little fantasy and humor can go a long way to helping kids dive into difficult topics! In Roxie and the Hooligans by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (age 7 - 11), Roxie knows what to do if she’s lost in a desert, caught in a storm, or buried by an avalanche...but not what to do about Helvetia’s Hooligans, the school’s pack of bullies. But when Roxie and the Hooligans end up stranded on an island — with a pair of thieves, no less! — the Hooligans will have to depend on Roxie to get them all out of there safely. While your Mighty Girl isn’t likely to end up finding food, water, and shelter for her bully on a deserted island, Roxie’s resilience and determination are a great model for any girl who feels like she can never overcome bullying.

While everyone hopes that their child will never get caught up in bullying, the truth is that almost every child will be involved in it, whether as the victim, as the bystander, or even as the bully. However, by teaching children empathy and giving them skills for handling bullying, relational aggression, exclusion, and other form of bullying, parents and educators can help create the positive, empowered community of kids that we need in order to have bullying become a thing of the past.

Additional Recommended Resources

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This post was posted in A Mighty Girl Spotlight, A Mighty Girl Top Pick, Front Page and was tagged with bullying prevention, empathy, cyberbullying, bullies, self-confidence, bullying, school-age, preschoolers, books

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