Bullying has become a hot-button issue in our society, and for good reason. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one out of three U.S. students reports being bullied at school. Children who are bullied are more likely to struggle with depression and anxiety, and their academic performance may also suffer. On the flip side, it’s been shown that children who bully others are more likely to engage in criminal activity as adults and be abusive toward their spouses and children. All these statistics drive home the point that the earlier we address bullying, the better. Many schools have implemented social-emotional and anti-bullying curriculum. Home is the other place where you can teach these lessons and give your child strategies for coping and communicating.
This year, address bullying with the help of strong, age-appropriate storytelling. This curated list features eight books that address the issue in a thoughtful and empathetic manner and offer an excellent way to start the important conversation about bullying with your child.
Llama Llama and the Bully Goat By Anna Dewdney (Ages: 3–5)
Llama Llama loves learning, but Gilroy Goat’s incessant taunting begins to make school miserable for him and his friends. Gilroy calls them names, kicks dirt and mocks students who are struggling. When Llama Llama tells a teacher what’s going on, Gilroy Goat is forced to take a long time-out. After having time to reflect on his behavior, Gilroy is given another chance to play, and this time he treats his classmates with respect and compassion. Llama Llama offers him a second chance at being friends, and Gilroy gladly accepts.
Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean By Jane Lynch & Lara Embry (Ages: 3–7)
Marlene is small but fierce, and she uses her powers for evil rather than good. Her classmates cannot escape her incessant bullying and unkind words. They aren’t safe on the playground, in class or in the halls of school. Finally one brave peer, Freddy, asks her why she has to be so mean.
Marlene’s classmates take away her power by refusing to be afraid of her. It forces her to realize that ruling the halls of school by being a bully is isolating, not empowering. She reforms her ways, and everyone is way happier — including Marlene.
Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun By Maria Dismondy (Ages: 3–7)
Lucy embraces her uniqueness, especially her curly hair and appreciation for unusual food combinations. Her grandfather encourages her to be her own person and tells her, “We’re all different. What a boring world it would be if we were exactly alike.” Unfortunately, her classmate Ralph makes fun of her for being unique, even after she begins to cry.
When Ralph gets stuck on top of the monkey bars during recess, the tables are turned, and Lucy has to make a choice about what kind of person to be. In the end, everyone learns a lesson.
Confessions of a Former Bully By Trudy Ludwig (Ages: 6–9)
When Katie is caught teasing a classmate one too many times, she meets with the school counselor, principal and her parents. Asked to look inside herself for answers about why she bullies, Katie begins a journal and reflects on the ways her behavior has hurt her peers and even herself. Katie’s diary entries are interspersed with facts and advice about how to handle bullying. The unique perspective offers insight into what drives kids to mistreat their classmates and how authority figures can help them reform.
Wonder By R.J. Palacio (Ages: 8–12)
Ten-year-old Auggie was born with a severe facial deformity that causes young children to scream in fear and older children to mock him as a “freak.” After being homeschooled, Auggie enters fifth grade at a private school in New York City. While some students welcome him, others are outwardly cruel or, worse, pretend to be his friend and mock him behind his back.
Told from multiple perspectives,
Wonder is a thoughtful look at how to handle bullying with both courage and resilience. It also sends a positive message about standing by your friends even when doing so may make you “uncool” in the eyes of your classmates.
Because of Mr. Terupt By Rob Buyea (Ages: 8–12)
Fifth-grade teacher Mr. Terupt has a knack for connecting with all his students, from the prankster to the mean girl to the bullied. Without being preachy, he gets them to think about their actions and how their behavior affects those around them. Told from the alternating perspectives of seven of Mr. Terupt’s students, we slowly gain insight into their backgrounds and their family lives.
When an accident leaves Mr. Terupt in a coma, his students come together to support each other. While they have listened to him throughout the year, they finally take his words to heart and adjust their behaviors in ways that would make their teacher proud.
Stargirl By Jerry Spinelli (Ages: 12 and older)
When formerly homeschooled Stargirl enters high school as a sophomore, her classmates are fascinated by her. She is whimsical, free-spirited and unapologetically nonconformist. Stargirl does things like serenade everyone on their birthdays — complete with a ukulele. Although she enjoys a brief stint of popularity, it doesn’t take long for her peers to turn on her.
The book is narrated by Leo, who has strong feelings for Stargirl, but ultimately isn’t brave enough to risk the reaction of their classmates. Thirty years later, he still thinks of her and is filled with regret. He made the mistake of going along with the crowd, but he learned from it, and so do we.
Thirteen Reasons Why By Jay Asher (Ages: 12 and older)
When Clay receives a mysterious package of cassette tapes, he’s shocked to hear the voice of his classmate and crush, Hannah, who committed suicide two weeks earlier. She’s sent recordings to 13 peers explaining how their actions contributed to her spiral of despair and ultimately her decision to end her life. Clay listens to Hannah’s words as she describes the emotional toll of unrelenting gossip and cruel rumors from merciless classmates. But he’s confused — he adored Hannah and never did anything to hurt her.
As Clay finishes listening to the recording, he learns that she has a special message for him. It turns out, kindness matters.