Monday, October 29, 2007

Bullies, Bossies, and Other Pests

It surprising to parents of three-year-olds that bullying and bossing and social games start early. Preschoolers are beginning to navigate this stuff, even before they get to kindergarten, and it can be painful to watch, even in the early stages. There is, however, more and more interest and awareness around bullying now than ever before, and with that comes a handful of picture books. Myself, I look for light-hearted, story-based, not-too-earnest ways of talking about bullying and being a good friend. These stories really don't talk in a direct way about what bullying is and how to deal with it, but rather offer a little tale, and in reading, I take the opportunity to comment on what is happening and ask questions of Pumpkinpie. "How do you think she feels right now?" "What do you think she could do?" Talking early and often is a great way to start the discussion and keep it going, and a book is always a nice, non-threatening place to begin.

This crop should open discussion with kids who still enjoy picture books, say from ages 3 to 8 or so, pretty easily. For early readers (about grades 2-3) who may want to read books on this theme by themselves, try simple chapter books Super Emma by Sally Warner or Jake Drake, Bully Buster, by Andrew Clements. (For more serious cases, though, there are books in the parenting section to help parents deal with the situation, especially for parents of older children, who may be facing more extreme degrees of bullying.)

Clara and The Bossy, by Ruth Ohi

Clara is happy to have a new friend, until Madison begins to criticize everything she does, and hurts another kid's feelings. She thinks about this one night, and decides that she needs to be herself more than she needs one more friend. She goes her own way, and soon enough, Madison follows, reformed.

A Weekend With Wendell, by Kevin Henkes

When Wendell shows up and spends the weekend terrorizing Sophie, she is at her wit's end. Finally, antagonism turns to friendship after Sophie gives him a taste of his own medicine. Once she gets her own back, the two find themselves having a great time together, and a whole new dynamic is in place.

Hooway for Wodney Wat, by Helen Lester, ill. Lynn Munsinger

The new rodent in class, Camilla Capybara is horrible. A know-it-all and a bully, she intimidates every other creature in class. When Rodney, who cannot say his R's, has to take a turn leading Simon Says, he totally defeats camilla, who doesn't understand his directions, not knowing about his speech. In the end, she disappears into the sunset, going "west" (instead of going to rest). What I love in particular about this book is that his weakness, for which he was teased at first, is the thing that makes him a hero to the others in the end, and his victory is not born of any bad behaviour on his part. It is a little simple, of course, and doesn't offer a solution per se, but it is nice for the underdog to be a hero and show her up.

Goggles, by Ezra Jack Keats

Proving that bullying is certainly nothing new, this classic title from Keats shows two young boys tricking a groups of bigger boys to avoid them when the bigger boys are picking on them. Features Keats' trademark urban setting and Peter, his frequent main character.

Is It Because?, by Tony Ross

One that promotes thinking about the root of bullying, and why the bully acts as he does. It is a tiny bit silly, to encourage a laugh and lighten the mood as you talk about something frightening. This encouraging empathy is a nice approach, though I think a child might want it paired with a book where the underdog triumphs, as well, to give a little lift of spirits and so that all the attention is not on the attention-seeking bully, as usual.

Duck, Duck, Goose, by Tad Hills

When Thistle, a new duck, moves into the neighbourhood, Duck is pretty excited - until he and Goose try to play with Thistle and discover that Thistle is pushy and bossy and overly competitive and in general, no fun to play with. While Goose tries to be a good sport for a while, eventually he and Duck give up, and fool the little duck into napping while they play their own games. (This is a followup to Duck & Goose, one of my favourite picture books of last year's crop.)

Ker-Splash!, by George O'Connor

This junior graphic book makes liberal use of the comic format and the superhero fantasies of the young to take on the topic of bullying. Set at the beach, a pair of kids pick on the younger brother of one of them, and then find themselves the target of a bigger bully. Seeing the parallel, they apologize the the little guy, and the three of them team up to defeat the big boy by distraction and teamwork. While the bully is avoided and doesn't get official comeuppance, the crab inching towards his sand-seated bottom in the last frame Delivers a snide and satisfying snicker.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

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