There is no shortage of material to help parents and kids deal with bullying. So much, in fact, that it can be hard to know which way to turn. If you do a search for “bullying” on Amazon you get over 8,400 results. I’ve already published a list of books that I would recommend for families with younger kids and recently I’ve been exploring options for kids in the higher elementary grades and middle school.
I want to focus on well-written youth fiction with bullying as a theme. This can be a wide field as well when you consider that everything from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Harry Potter use bullying for conflict and dramatic effect. These books can provide some value but at the same time I think books that embrace bullying as a deeper theme can be useful tools for parents trying to help their kids deal with bullying. If kids can see themselves in the characters it might help them make choices and figure out how to deal with their feelings.
I’ve included the books on this list – in no particular order – because they all have some aspect of bullying, being bullied, or being different and the way people deal with those differences, good and bad. They also come recommended from kids I know who have read and enjoyed them.
Crash by Jerry Spinelli
This is a very short book, a character sketch really, but it’s one of the few books on this list told exclusively from the point of view of a bully. It was difficult for me to read because I really didn’t like the protagonist but I have to admit that it painted a strong portrait of one bully’s character.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
A boy with facial deformities “whatever you’re imagining, it’s worse” has to deal with going to school with other kids for the first time in 5th grade. This book looks at the story from the point of view of several of the main characters and I think it’s a real strength to get to explore Auggie’s situation from these different angles.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
A novel written in verse about a Vietnamese girl and her family moving from Saigon to Alabama. I think kids need more poetry.
Schooled by Gordon Korman
Homeschooled by hippies in the middle of nowhere and then thrust into public school with no cultural reference points to relate to the other kids. I like the idea that nurture could figure as heavily in making you an outsider as a physical or cultural difference.
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
There is bullying here but more importantly there is truth and deception and the nature of relationships, which then comes back around and asks, why do people do the things they do? Are they really bad people in the end?
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
Full disclosure, I haven’t read this one but in researching it I found the parallels that it draws between a prisoner of war camp during Vietnam and the torture of bullying to be compelling. It’s also gotten lots of good reviews.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Ellen Forney (illustrator)
Aside from the fact that it won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2007 I was drawn to this book because both the author and illustrator are wonderfully talented Seattle artists. Oh, and it’s really good too.
Blubber by Judy Blume
This is not an easy book and some people have accused it of not having many redeeming values but I appreciate the idea that the situations and relationships are messy and there are no simple solutions. It’s an excellent opportunity to have a conversation with your kids about what they think of all the twists and turns relationships with friends and classmates can take.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
A longtime classic it may seem dated because of its setting and the nature of its gang violence but I think there are strong themes of redemption and how the choices we make can change our lives.
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
Another book where the protagonist’s physical challenges define their experience and separation from their peers. I like books with these kinds of themes because I try to see the physical challenges as a metaphor for the separation and loneliness any of us can feel, especially during adolescence. My 4th grade daughter loved it.
Do you agree or disagree with my assessment or have something to add?
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Let me know what you think.