new picture book, Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish, Ernest the Sea Monster is
ready to welcome a new student to his school, but it isn’t long before he
realizes the new fish is a little bossy--and many of his behaviors border on
bullying. Young readers will recognize
the trouble brewing right away and will be eager to talk about how the new
fish’s words and actions might be making the others feel. Ernest has a decision
to make when the new fish starts his own cool club and excludes some of
Ernest’s friends. Can he find a way to stand up for his classmates, include
everyone in the fun, and help the new fish be a better friend?
first time I read this book to a group of kindergartners, I was amazed by how
quickly they understood how this bossy fish was affecting the school climate.
I’d pause briefly after reading each page and let the kids chime in. “Look!”
they’d say, “See how sad the sturgeon looks now? And look at Ernest. You can
tell he knows it’s wrong but he isn’t sure what to do…” Sharing this title as a read-aloud allows
parents and teachers to extend those conversations with role plays to help kids
prepare for their own playground challenges and practice standing up to
about bullying and exclusion before it happens--and teaching kids how to
respond--is one of the best ways to ensure a positive school and playground
environment. Here are ten more titles that will help to launch those
For Young Readers
Big Mean Mike Funny and full of character, this picture book written by Michelle Knudsen and
illustrated by Scott Magoon features a rough-and-tumble main character who
shows us that even the toughest of the tough guys can be good to their smaller
Mouse Was MadSo
often, bullying is about misplaced anger, so teaching kids to recognize and
deal with feelings is a huge step in heading off playground bullying. Linda
Urban’s Mouse Was Mad, illustrated by Henry Cole, invites kids to consider the
very best ways to be angry…and to get that anger out of one’s system to relax.
This is a great read-aloud to launch a conversation about what to do with those
crummy feelings that show up sometimes.
Each Kindness Jacqueline Woodson’s quiet but hard hitting story about a new girl in school
who is excluded invites readers to consider lost opportunities for kindness and
to imagine how they might respond when a classmate needs a friend. E.B. Lewis’s
illustrations capture the emotions of exclusion and regret in a way that will
get readers thinking and talking, too.
often, starting school means figuring out where you fit in the larger world,
and in Kevin Henkes’s Chrysanthemum, the main character discovers that her name--a name she’s loved all her life--is longer than everyone else’s and makes
her feel out of place. Books like this one help kids to appreciate what’s
special about them and to be at peace in their own skin--a major step in
making kids “bully-proof.”
Me and Mama and Big
John This lovely picture book, written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated
by William Low, isn’t about bullying; it’s about taking pride in the work that
you do and in your family. The main character’s mother is a rock cutter who’s
working on the grand St. John’s Cathedral, and the voice in this story reminds
us that many kinds of work are valuable and make the world more beautiful. This
is a great title for teaching kids to embrace diversity of all kinds.
Fly Away Home This is one of my favorite picture books to help kids understand that not
everyone’s home life is like theirs. Written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by
Ronald Himler, this title follows a homeless boy and his father who spend time
living in an airport, washing up in the public restrooms and trying not to be
discovered, as the boy dreams of a real home. A great title for promoting
empathy, it’s an eye-opening conversation starter for more privileged kids who
may not understand why some classmates come to school without homework done or
the supplies they need.
For Older Readers
Lord’s novel Rules is narrated by a girl whose younger brother has autism, and
while it’s mostly Catherine’s journey, we also get to see how others view her,
her brother, and her friend Jason, who’s confined to a wheelchair. This is a
fantastic book club or literature circles selection that will get kids thinking
and talking about how they interact with classmates who have disabilities.
Out of My Mind
Sharon M. Draper’s main character in Out of My Mind has never spoken a word aloud,
but she’s brilliant, and inside, her mind is bursting with words. Because this
book is written in Melody’s voice, readers make an immediate connection and are
truly able to imagine themselves in her situation. This title will help kids to
understand all the subtle ways that students might be bullied--not only
through outward teasing but also through quieter kinds of exclusion that are
just as harmful.
The Running Dream This YA title by Wendelin van Draanen is another great title to help kids
imagine what it might be like to walk in someone else’s shoes. In this case,
those shoes are running shoes, and they belong to Jessica, a teenaged runner
who’s lost a leg in a car accident. Her journey to achieve a goal is one that
readers walk alongside her, and it will give kids a new appreciation for
friends and classmates dealing with personal struggles of their own.
See You at Harry’s This tearjerker by Jo Knowles is an amazing family story, but also another
title that’s great for helping kids to empathize with classmates whose lives
might be different from theirs. Guaranteed to launch powerful conversations
about bullying and the hurt it leaves behind, this book is great for literature
circles or book clubs to discuss. Kids will do some real soul-searching along
with the talking.