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Exploring the Children’s Reading World with Parents and Educators –

Beating a Bully — With a Book October 15, 2008

Juvenile author Nancy Wilcox-Richards, whose publisher Scholastic Canada doesn’t seem to be currently distributing here in the U.S., reportedly has released her second children’s chapter book in the bully series called How to Outplay a Bully.  Her first book on the subject, How to Tame a Bully, apparently hit such a nerve that it sold 40,000 copies in the first six months.

I wish my kids, and others, could get their hands on Wilcox-Richard’s reportedly resonant books, for obvious reasons. And the subject of Therapy By Children’s Novel seems to be a trend (as per my blog from just the other day, about how novels that feature healthy eating messages can help encourage weight loss).

But there’s still lots of good bullying help stateside. Master juvenile novelist Jerry Spinelli’s Crash is riveting in its exploration of the bullying issue from the bully’s point of view. Spinelli loves sports, and here he weaves into his middle school football hero character John “Crash” Coogan’s own problems and insights into his taunting of classmate Penn Webb — a gawky, modest, and more awkward boy who would seem to have nothing — and yet possesses everything Crash really wants — at the same time. Does Crash get his comeuppance? You bet.  Is there a tidy resolution? Yes, but in a realistic and even humorous way. That’s why this book gets my top vote, for its naturalness and good writing that still drive its point without taking a didactic tone.

Trudy Ludwig is an established star in the bullying novel genre, more in didactic vein (with back-of-the-book tips), in her titles Just Kidding, My Secret Bully, Sorry!, and others.

Meanwhile, younger kids can take solace — and take notes — with the delectable Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Bottner, and popular Kevin Henkes’ A Weekend with Wendell.

If we didn’t know any better from our personal experiences, one would almost think from our parents’ blinders that bullying was a new phenomenon, or somehow getting worse. It seems worse to me, because my heart is walking around in the bodies of my two little boys, who encounter it seemingly more frequently than I did. Or do we just have “double the trouble” with two in the house?

But just a quick think takes me back to some Great Bullies of Literature. Remember Nellie Olsen of Little House fame? I’d have hated to be on her list. I was short, with red hair, glasses, crooked teeth, you name it.  I wouldn’t have had a prayer. Or how about Wendy — and narrator Jill — from Judy Blume’s Blubber, which takes both a female and bully’s point of view?

Unfortunately, bullying is human nature and undoubtedly here to stay… forever. But we can try to beat it, one book at a time.

Posed by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever



Can a book really help kids lose weight? October 7, 2008

I usually equate good books with the building of reading and writing skills, the value of rich, well-written stories and worthwhile, memorable characters, and cultural literacy. A noble, brave, kind character can be an important role model, and even influence behavior.

And “just like us” characters can keep us company, reassure us that we’re OK, and maybe even help us solve our problems. Think Judy Blume, perhaps especially the landmark Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

But a book that may help young readers lose weight through modeling behavior that is neatly hidden in storyline? This I’d never considered. I’ve never thought books that promoted any agenda, from room-cleaning directives from preachy Berenstain Bears, aka The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room (A First Time Book) (I know, I know — queue the e-mailed objections) to the raft of pre-election, partisan propaganda that’s popped up between deceptively bright-and-sunny children’s book covers, were generally worthwhile reading. But I now admit some might have useful angles.

According to a bumper crop of news stories on this subject in the past few days, a new study claims kids who read books that promote healthy lifestyle choices such as exercise and good nutrition are more likely to lose extra weight.

Reports the L.A. Times, “A recent study found that after reading a book with underlying messages of getting healthy via physical activity and good nutrition, girls ages 9 to 13 showed a slight decrease in their body mass index.”

The book to which they’re referring, Lake Rescue (Beacon Street Girls, No. 6) by Annie Bryant, is part of the Beacon Street Girls series written for (ack-age guideline coming) preteen girls, and also addresses tough situations like cyber bullying and divorce. Describes the Times: “In this book, an overweight girl goes to an outdoor adventure camp with her class. Although worried about being picked on for being heavy, she finds a role model who teaches her about becoming healthier through eating right and trying new activities.”

So what’s the fact breakdown? Apparently the book’s author (in the most clever marketing ruse I’ve ever heard of) proposed the study, which featured 64 seriously overweight girls already enrolled in Duke University’s Healthy Lifestyles program. They were put into three groups and tracked. One group read no books, one read another Beacon Street Girls book that didn’t deal with health and weight loss issues, and one read “Lake Rescue.”

The Times reports the “Lake Rescue” group decreased its BMI scores 0.71%, the group that read another book decreased its BMI scores .33%, and the group that had no intervention increased its BMI scores .05%. Well, the progress may have been slight, but it’s noticeable.

And of course, nothing, including a book, is a panacea. Children need support, availability of healthy food and exercise opportunities, and other positive reinforcement to lose weight. After all, the girls in this study were already enrolled in a serious program. But given the onslaught of junk-food commercials and candy-popping peers facing them down every day, I’ll bet the weight loss proposition is harder on children, girls or boys, than it would be for just about anyone else.

If this book helps, this is wonderful. I’d even give my blessing to a Berenstain Bears book that tackled such a tough subject for a younger audience, if it got results for its young readers.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever