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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

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