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Using Children’s Literature as Anti-Bullying Material

Janelle Cox

October is Bullying Prevention Month, and throughout the course of the next couple weeks we’ll be spotlighting ways educators can combat this continuing problem.

Children’s literature can be an effective anti-bullying tool.  Most educators will agree that tolerance and acceptance are crucial for living in the 21st century. We live in a diverse world, where everyone comes from different backgrounds and cultures. With this diversity, unfortunately, comes ignorance and bullying.

But the use of literature can help address the growing concerns of physical, mental, and verbal bullying in school. Using children’s literature as an anti-bullying device can improve a students’ ability to sympathize, emphasize, and respect others. It can also help them develop a better understanding of how to cope with their problems.

Teachers can use books to facilitate meaningful conversations that will help students develop a greater understanding of what being bullied feels like. With the help of literature, students can learn how to deal with bullying and maybe even banish it forever from our lives.

Benefits of Literature

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the use of literature stimulates thinking and provides emotional support by letting children know that they are not alone. The characters in stories can help students understand and cope with their problems as well as construct resolutions to those problems. Literature can also:

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  • Release emotions and anxiety.
  • Provide an outlet for students to seek help.
  • Plan realistic solutions to problems.
  • Increase empathy and respect for others.
  • Increase understanding of human behavior.

Literature helps students discuss sensitive issues that they would otherwise keep to themselves. By discussing the characters in the story rather than themselves, they eliminate exposing their own issues of being bullied. Such dialogue helps students cope with their problems without exposing their fears. 

Selecting Children’s Literature

With the rise of anti-bullying campaigns comes an abundance of children’s literature on the topic. It’s important to note that when selecting and presenting material on bullying, educators should steer away from the stereotypical clichéd characters. Books that depict only “nerds” and “jocks” make it difficult for the students who considers themselves in between to relate to the characters. Experts suggest that when choosing literature educators should look for:

  • Books that are realistic in terms of life experience for that particular age.
  • Stories that depict an honest portrayal of the characters.
  • Literature that presents multidimensional characters.
  • Books that explore how to work out problems.
  • Stories that are written at an appropriate age level.

When using children’s literature to address the problem of bullying, make sure to present of a variety of books that explore a range of storylines. Bullying occurs in many forms, such as intimidation, gossip, rumors, physical harassment, etc. It’s important to find a variety of themes that students can relate to. Look for literature in which students can identify with the characters, books that are insightful, and help them find solutions to their own problems.

Using Picture Books for Elementary Students

Consider the following picture books to address bullying and empower young readers.

“Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Bottner is a tale about bullying told from the child who is getting bullied. It’s an inspirational tale of self-reliance and facing adversity. Children can identify with the narrator in this classic theme. The situation will resonate with young readers as they learn how to outsmart and stand up for themselves against their tormentor.

To get the conversation started after reading this story, ask students, “Why didn’t the narrator want Bootsie to come over her house? Why didn’t she ask her mother to help her?” Have students discuss these questions and other ones they may have with a partner or in a small group.

Additional picture books to address bullying:

  • “Henry and the Bully” by Nancy Carlson
  • “Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon” by Patty Lovell
  • “My Best Friend” by Mary Ann Rodman
  • “Thank You, Mr. Falker” by Patricia Polacco
  • “Goggles” by Ezra Jack Keats

Best Books for Middle School Students

“Super Emma by Sally Warner is a realistic tale of what can happen when you try and stick up for a friend that is getting picked on. The main character’s life gets a little more complicated as she deals with the aftermath of trying to do the right thing.

To get the conversation started after reading this story, ask students, “Why do you think Emma doesn’t consider herself brave? Can you relate to Ellray being embarrassed because a girl stuck up for him?” Have students discuss these questions with a partner, as well as choose a part of the book to act out.

Additional books to address bullying:

  • “Secret Saturdays” by Torrey Maldonado
  • “The Boy in the Dress” by David Williams
  • “The Girls” by Amy Goldman Koss
  • “Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree” by Lauren Tarshis
  • “Slob” by Ellen Potter

Literature plays an important role in supporting anti-bullying efforts. Children can find solace by connecting to the characters in a book. These stories can really make a difference in the way children view themselves, as well as others. 

What do you think of using literature to address and combat bullying in schools? Do you have any favorite literature that can help students relate to the issue? Please leave your comments and suggestions in the space below. We would love to hear your thoughts.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators