How to Handle a Bully

by Dianne White on September 21, 2011

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This week’s Book Room post looks at bullying, from several different perspectives, and what to do about it.

CRASH by Jerry Spinelli

Just about everybody has called John Coogan by the name Crash since he put on his first football helmet, charged into his cousin, and knocked her clear back out the open doorway. Everyone, that is, but Penn Ward.

Penn and Crash are as different as they come. Penn’s a vegetarian whose mother buys his clothes in a second-hand store. He’s an only child, a Quaker, and a misfit who lives with his aging parents in a house that’s really a garage. He’s everything that Crash despises, or so Crash thinks.

Over time, Penn’s openhearted and guileless approach unnerves and, ultimately, inspires Crash’s transformation from bully to decent young hero.

THE RECESS QUEEN by Alexis O’Neill, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

Mean Jean the Recess Queen growls and howls and always gets her way. Until one day, a new kid, Katie Sue arrives at school. Not knowing a thing about Mean Jean’s bullying ways, Katie Sue goes about her business, playing the games she wants to play. “Bouncity Bouncity Bounce. Kickity Kickity Kick. Swingity Swingity Swing.”

Mean Jean may think she owns the playground, but Katie Sue stands her ground and turns things around when she invites Mean Jean to play:  “I like ice cream, I like tea, I want Jean to jump with me!”

The girls end up jumping rope and Katie Sue’s invitation is the key that turns things around on the playground.

While in real life, bullies may not change their ways as quickly and easily as Mean Jean, Katie Sue’s positive attitude reminds kids that small kindnesses go a long way and a grouchy or even mean child is sometimes that way because he or she hasn’t learned how to be any different. A warm smile and an invitation to join the group can often go a long way towards making a new friend.

ENEMY PIE by Derek Munson, illustrated by Tara Calahan King

Sometimes the person you thought you’d never like, the person you wanted to be rid of, the first and only person ever to make it to your own personal Enemy List turns out to be not as bad as you’d thought.

That’s exactly what happens to Jeremy Ross and the boy down the street.  But it doesn’t begin with a happy ending. It begins when Jeremy moves into the neighborhood, has a trampoline party in his backyard, and invites his neighbor, without inviting his neighbor’s best friend, who happens be the narrator. At that moment,  Jeremy Ross earns the dubious label, Enemy Number One.

Luckily for the young narrator, Dad knows about enemies and the best way to get rid of them. He pulls out the recipe for Enemy Pie and tells his son, “In order for it to work, you need to spend a day with your enemy. Even worse, you have to be nice to him…”

BOOTSIE BARKER BITES by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Peggy Rathmann

Accepting differences is not the same thing as letting others boss you around.  When Bootsie Barker and her mom come to visit the young narrator’s home, shel knows right away she’s in for trouble. Bootsie Barker doesn’t take “No” for an answer. She gets her way in whatever way she can!

When the narrator tries to interest Bootsie in a book about turtles, Bootsie replies, “You’re a turtle!… And I’m a TURTLE-EATING DINOSAUR!”

While her mom continues to encourage her to “learn to get along with all kinds of people,” the narrator’s thoughts are getting away from her – she’s dreaming of Bootise, falling off the edge of the world. “I try to save her, but it’s too late.”

Fortunately, our heroine doesn’t have to suffer indefinitely. She manages to turn the tables on Bootsie, and have the last word. After all, sometimes accepting others means understanding yourself well enough to know what you don’t have to accept.

Alexis O'Neill September 23, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Dianne – Thanks for putting The Recess Queen in such auspicious company!

Dianne September 24, 2011 at 6:19 am

THE RECESS QUEEN is a terrific read-aloud and has opened the door to many fine discussions in class. Hooray for THE RECESS QUEEN!

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