Bullying, a constant issue in schools, has many different faces. Recent books offer complex views that can help parents and teachers through difficult conversations.
Big Mean Mike: Meet Michelle Knudsen’s “Big Mean Mike” (Candlewick, ages 4-6), a hero and antihero who is “the biggest, toughest dog in the neighborhood.” His bark is mean, teeth sharp and claws big and pointy.
Scott Magoon’s illustrations show his scowl, threatening raised fist and the fearful expressions of those around him. But what’s a bully to do when he finds a “tiny, fuzzy bunny” in the trunk of his car when “big, mean dogs and tiny cute bunnies did not go together?”
Despite his best bunny-removal efforts, they multiply, and so do his confusing feelings as he softens. Big Mean Mike finds resolution when he admits his bunny bond to his bullying buddies and asks, “Any of you got a problem with that?” Is he a bully or not?
Each Kindness: Author Jacqueline Woodson and illustrator E.B. Lewis eloquently express the bully potential we all have in “Each Kindness” (Nancy Paulsen Books, ages 5 and up). Chloe, the viewpoint character, greets Maya, a new girl, unkindly, noting she wears “ragged” clothes and “spring shoes, not meant for the snow.” When Maya smiles at her, Chloe moves “my chair, myself, and my books a little farther away from her.” Chloe rejects Maya’s attempts at friendship, gossips about and excludes her. Chloe changes only when her teacher drops a pebble in water to show how “Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple into the world.” Chloe is determined to change, but Maya has moved, leaving Chloe with regret and sadness that this chance is “forever gone.” Lewis’ pictures enhance the strong emotions.
The Second Life of Abigail Walker: Frances O’Roark Dowell gives a wrenching portrait of mean-girl bullying in “The Second Life of Abigail Walker” (Atheneum, ages 9-12). The girls mock Abby, who weighs 17 pounds more than they do, and the situation is compounded as Abby’s father urges a diet and her mother promotes friendship with these cruel girls.
Everything changes when Abby is bitten by a mystical fox who gives her an “oddly giddy” feeling and Abby ventures beyond her familiar surroundings to make friends with a boy whose father suffers from PTSD. All subplots link, but the most poignant is the bullying and Abby’s change from self-loathing to understanding her worth.
The Bully Book: Watch for the December publication of Eric Kahn Gale’s “The Bully Book” (HarperCollins, ages 9 and up). The author transforms his own elementary school experiences into a mystery with a hero worth applauding.
When sixth-grader Eric Haskins is labeled “the Grunt” and becomes the object of the organized bullying of his entire class, he pursues a journey of discovery voiced through his journal entries and pages of the bullying manual written by a former sixth-grader.