Picture Books to help us explore the complexity of bullying

Division 5 is currently exploring the theme of bully, bullied, bystander through picture books. We also share books on this topic during our weekly Social Responsibility gatherings. Here are some of the titles we have been reading.

Jungle Bullies written by Steven Kroll and illustrated by Vincent Nguyen

This book has a simple repetetive message important to help children understand that bossy, mean behaviour isn’t okay especially when someone is using their bigger size to be intimidating. As each jungle animal nudges another out of a napping spot, the trend seems like it will never stop until a little monkey decides with the help of his Mama that he wants to stand up to a bully. Children learn: Being a bully isn’t okay. I can stand up to it with some help from others. Let’s focus on sharing and maybe even being friends. Perfect for Pre-K-2. 

Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns about Bullies written by Howard Binkow and illustrated by Susan F. Cornelison.

This is one of my favourite Howard B. Wigglebottom books and one that never fails to engage listeners. This book teaches us about the importance of asking for help when bullying doesn’t stop. Howard has a little voice inside his head that tells him Be brave, Be bold, A teacher must be told. But it isn’t always easy to trust our intuition and Howard suffers many unpleasant interactions with the Snorton twins before he finally decides to report their behaviour. Finally, he can sleep easily, knowing that he was brave, he was bold when his teacher was finally told. “I am okay. I am safe.” he assures himself at the end.  Such an important book!

Great for K-3

You’re Mean, Lily Jean written by Frieda Wishinsky and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. 

 This is a “could be”, “might be”, “kinda is” a bully book but the social dynamics between the children allow it to be a book that is more about making firm expectations for play. Lily Jean is definitely some kind of bossy and quite quite mean. She shows off constantly, says “No!” when asked “Can I play too?” and bosses everyone around when she does allow them to be part of the game. (“You be the cow and I’ll be the cowgirl” kind of thing) But when sisters Sandy and Carly are assertive with Lily Jean and set some limits, Lily Jean is basicallly put in her place with the question, “Can you be nice?” When she agrees, playtime continues and is happy for all involved. A great book to illustrate that children can often solve their own social problems without involving an adult. It also shows us that the power of a bully dissolves quickly when nobody will go along with it.

Ideal for K-3

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun written by Maria Dismondy and illustrated by Kimberly Shaw-Peterson.

The message of this book is all about courage – courage to stand up for yourself but also courage to forgive and reach out to others. Lucy has been bullied by Ralph in some truly nasty ways. When he gets stuck on the monkey bars, she has the opportunity to get back at him. Instead she realizes, looking at him so full of fear, that just like her Papa Gino told her, Ralph has a heart with feelings. Lucy offers her help, demonstrating courage to do the right thing – treat others the way she wants to be treated. Students learn that sometimes the hard shell of a bully can be softened with a little bit of kindness.

Suitable for Grades 2-4

Say Something written by Peggy Moss and illustrated by Lea Lyon.

What happens when you see bullying all around you? Pushing. Teasing. Name calling. But you don’t participate? You don’t say anything. What happens when one day the bullying happens to you? Those other kids sitting near, the ones saying nothing . . . suddenly the silence feels like something. It feels like it should be different. Saying nothing is the opposite of saying something. Of standing by instead of standing up. A very powerful book that shows us the importance of speaking up.

Suitable for Grades 2-5

When Randolph Turned Rotten

Today we started reading books that help us to address the bully/bullied/bystander dynamic. When Randolph Turned Rotten by Charise Mericle Harper was our first book.

Many would not categorize this as a book about bullying. It would more likely be labelled a book about feelings, friendship or forgiveness. While it does teach us about all of those things, I also think it is the ideal book to introduce the concept of how our feelings translate into our actions. Quite simply here: rotten feelings = nasty actions.  We are going to learn a lot in this unit. To start, why does someone act like bully/engage in bully behaviour? Next, what does being bullied feel like? What emotions does someone go through? Third, what about when there are bystanders? What are their roles? And finally, how does all of this work together? What happens when bullying begins and isn’t stopped?

In When Randolph Turned Rotten, we gain insight to what made Randolph go from being a good friend to a guy with “stinky rotten insides” that wishes ill on his best friend. In Randolph’s case, he is impacted by envy. His lovely best friend Ivy is invited to a birthday party. An all girl birthday party. A birthday party that Ivy is super duper excited about and that Randolph is NOT invited to attend. Randolph wishes he could go. He wishes Ivy would not go. He wishes he wasn’t going to be left alone. Then his wishes get mean. He hopes Ivy will have a horrible time and he devises a plan to ensure it. Randolph turns into nasty Randolph (Harper creates the perfect labelled diagram complete with mad hands – we all practiced trying to smile with clenched fists like that and it was close to impossible!) Mean thoughts invade his brain.

Randolph does a number of things to try and mess up Ivy’s trip – many of them focussed  on getting her to pack ridiculous items in her bag and scaring her about potential beach hazards like the awful beach bears that she will need a poiny stick to ward off! This book has  very interesting twist when Ivy arrives at the party. The geese (Ivy happens to be a goose!) get locked out of the house and must spend the night on the beach. All of the items Randolph inist Ivy pack turn out to be incredibly useful. Instead of ruining the party, Randolph is a hero! But, not to himself. Randolph, once alone with just time to contend with, feels guilty for what he has done. He apologizes. Ivy forgives him. They are best friends as always. But, we the readers, learned a lot. When we let our upset feelings take over and take us from thinking to acting in mean ways, we are engaging in bully behaviour. Wanting others to feel as bad as we do is a normal feeling but not one that we want to allow to cloud our judgement. It helped us understand why someone might do and say cruel things. It allowed us to start having those conversations about why someone might bully.

We are looking forward to reading more titles on this theme and the conversations that they might inspire.

The Day Joanie Frankenhauser Became a Boy

My daughter found this book at the library and recommended it to me. I had seen it on the Young Reader’s Choice shelf (it was a Junior selection for 2008) and have had it on my radar as a book I might recommend to students moving on into Grade 4. The day Joanie Frankenhauser Became a Boy written by Francess Lantz is well suited to students in Grades 3-6.

Joanie is the youngest child in her family with two rough and tumble older brothers. At ten years old, she is hyper aware of the different expectations for boys and girls and wishes her mom wasn’t so concerned with her wearing a skirt or trying out lipgloss when she really just wants to play football. When the family moves to a new town and her name is misspelled as John instead of Joan on the class list, Joanie jumps at the chance to “try out” life as a boy. Joanie a.k.a. John soon realizes that being a boy is more challenging than just looking the part (a haircut and skater shorts help pull off the transformation). Lantz explores themes of friendship, loyalty, bravery and the social dynamics of this age group. A quick read that leaves one thinking about gender stereotypes and embracing who you really are.

#1 (One) and One = 2 books (called One)

What happens when you read 2 books called One? A few things . . .

It seems to me that when a book is called One, there must be something within in it that offers us some simplicity – that by the time you are finished reading it, you can clearly articulate at least one thing you learned.  Often with simplicity is weight. A simple message with some power behind it. So let’s see – I tried out two books titled One with my class this morning.

We started with #1 (one) by V. Radunsky: A nice story about an awful braggart. This story is about one of ten little armadillos who is actually called Six but is convinced he is #1. The strongest! The smartest! The bravest! The best! #1! #1! #1! He boasts about his inventions, his height, his speed  . . . He gets the best presents. What does he want? He has a big list including: Three cats plus one more cat. Five altogether. If you aren’t convinced, he will help you by explaining all of the reasons why he is #1. My favourite? His story of why he is the strongest: I saved this horse the other day. Twenty grown armadillos couldn’t even lift this horse but I did. Because I’m #1. The horse was so grateful.

In the end, everyone in his family completely agrees. Yes, # 1 they say. Definitely.

You are the #1 clown, show off, chatterbox, storyteller, dreamer! You are our # !!

Maybe not the reaction this little pink armadillo was looking for, but definitely recognition!

Reactions from my class?

Ricky: “He’s lying about everything. He can’t be that smart or that strong. He can’t be an inventor. Duh.”

Eddy: ” You have to be in college or even higher when you want to invent something.”

Scott: “He’s just dreaming.”

Miami: “He just thinks about himself.”

Alyson: “Selfish.”

I clarified that we actually call this “self-centered.”

Ricky: “He can’t go to college anyway cuz 3 + 1 = 4, not 5.” (remember the cat comment?)

We then read One by Kathyrn Otoshi. This amazing book explores what happens when someone is picked on and nobody steps in to say that it is not okay. All of the colours are in the shadow of the hot-head Red who grows bigger and bigger as he continues to be mean, unchallenged by the other colours. Then One comes on the scene and shows all of the colours how to stand up and count!

We had a lot of reactions to this book as it fits right in with the books we have been reading about bullies, the bullied and the bystander.

Ricky: “The colours are too scared.”

Hands shot in the air. “Oh! Oh! Oooh!”

“They’re like bystanders!”

A collective hands down. Many of us were just about to say the same thing.

Interesting perspectives came next.

Alyson: “If they all teamed up together, they might be bigger than red.” (work together against the bully)

Jena: “Maybe red is mean because no one is his friend.” (show some empathy towards the bully)

Hajhare: “Maybe there’s bigger guys – like brown and black?” (overpower the bully)

Otoshi offers us another perspective. Everyone stands up to be counted and says, “No!” when Red tries again to roll over Blue. Red, seeing the others standing tall, shrinks and is about to roll away when One points out that “Red can count too.” Red becomes Seven, and joins in the fun. Sometimes it just takes One ends the story.

Jena: “If one person stands up, everyone else might join.”

I asked the students. “So how are these two books different?”

Kevin: “One book is teaching and the other is just a story.”

Miami: “No. All are teaching a lesson.”

“Really?” I asked. “What lessons did we learn from this book?” (I held up the Radunsky book)

“#1 wanted to be # 1 but being Six was special.”

“Don’t get your hopes too high.”

“Just be yourself.”

“Don’t be a show off!”

“And this one?” I held up Otoshi‘s One.

“Stand up.”

“Don’t be a bully. It makes it all worse.”

“It just takes one person to make everyone be a community.” (Officially the beautiful comment of the day!)

So there you have it. Read one book (x 2) and savour the learning and thinking it inspires

Our reading of 2 books called One was certainly worth more than one + one is two 🙂

Bird Child

Today we read Bird Child by Canadian teacher, parent and writer Nan Forler. I came across this book at the public library and was thrilled to discover that it also touched on the active role of the bystander in the bully/bullied/bystander dynamic. We have been talking about this topic a lot using  powerful literature to inspire our discussion.


Eliza is a tiny girl – skin and bones with hair as black as a raven. She was raised in a very special way – she was taught to fly. Wow! There were hands in the air instantly.”Is this true?” “Really?” When I asked the students what they thought, I got some very interesting answers:

Alyson: “It said her hair was black like a raven so maybe she got that skill from birds.”

Kevin: “Maybe she can fly because her bones are hollow.”

Hajhare: “Maybe she can turn back and forth between a bird and an animal like Eagle Boy.” (We have been reading a lot of Aboriginal literature lately with this theme)

I suggested that maybe the author was implying that she could fly in her mind. “Oh like visualizing,” said Kevin. “Yeah, she means it like an expression,” Ricky agreed. As we read further, we hear the words that Eliza’s mother always tells her, “Look down and see what is. Now, look up and see what can be.” Thoughtful words to always encourage Eliza to focus on possibility and with a positive perspective, to take an active role in changing situations to make them better.

A new girl, Lainey, starts school and rides the bus each day with Eliza. Lainey quickly becomes the target of teasing and exclusion. My students explored reasons that she might be bullied: Were others jealous of her beautiful drawings? Her hair?Are they making fun of her because she is new? Because of what she wears? Why are they so mean?

Soon the teasing escalates to stealing Lainey’s hat and burying it in the snow. A boy smushes snow into her face “wiping away what was left of the smile she’d had on her first day of school.” Silence in my classroom. Silence in the story. “Eliza said nothing. She stood like a statue her boots sinking deeper and deeper into the snow, her voice dry as a mouthful of wool. and watched it happen.” Such a heavy emotional scene. Illustrator Francois Thisdale makes the mood even more sad and somber with the smirking children laughing at Lainey, frozen Eliza in the background and Lainey with her eyes squished shut all alone in the wintery schoolyard with the barren trees and a pink skyline behind. There was a little bit more silence in my class and then the “Oh! Oh! Oh!’s and the waving hands started. We had things to say about this.

Jena: “Eliza is like a bystander and kind of like bullying her too. If she doesn’t tell, the bullying won’t stop. It’s like the Juice Box Bully.”

Alyson: “Eliza should stand up for Lainey.”

Lisa: “Eliza might be worried – that people would think she was a tattler.”

Miami: “This is like something that happened to me. My Grandma fell and people just walked by her. Nobody helped. Two men were sitting on a bench and they just kept sitting. I felt so bad.”

Children see everything we do and everything we don’t do. Sometimes it is not so much our actions but when we fail to act that haunts us. Eliza felt shame. She told her Mom everything and her Mom listened. “It sounds like Lainey needs someone to help her fly.” Eliza knew what she had to do. Alyson commented thoughtfully, “Maybe flying means helping her get through it.”

The next time Lainey is bullied, Eliza acts. She “reached down inside herself and found her wings” When she shouts at a boy to return Lainey’s hat, other children join in “Yeah give it back.” The bullies’ power bubble is popped and they walk away.

Scott: “She’s taking care of Lainey now.”

Miami: “You know what I think? I think she couldn’t stand watching her be bullied anymore so she just yelled.”

Jena: “Maybe Eliza did that thing – you know, putting herself in her shoes?”

Lisa: “It’s like the Juice Box Bully – maybe they will have a rule, that everyone needs to help others.”

Alyson: “Oh I know! It’s like a chain reaction – helping it to stop, standing up.”

Kevin: “It’s like that dance we saw on the movie at Pink Day (referring to the flash mob anti bullying video)

In the end, Eliza and Lainey play together building a snow castle to the sky. I ask: Why do you think this book was witten?

Ricky: “It’s a lesson to stand up for each other!”

Alyson: “Don’t be a bystander! Just stand up!”

Emilio: “Probably they made this book so people won’t copy other bullies and be mean.”

Bird Child: so much beautiful writing and visually, it is absolutely gorgeous. This book should have a special place on the shelf in every school library and should be read and discussed with students again and again. There are not enough picture books that so thoughtfully explore the active role of the bystander in changing the way a bully might act and the way a peer is treated.

The Juice Box Bully

This week we read a fantastic book that looked at the difficult subject of bullying and what it means to stand up together against bullying in a school community.


The Juice Box Bully: Empowering Kids to Stand Up for Others is coauthored by Maria Dismondy and Bob Sornson and illustrated by Kim Shaw. Many of the characters from Dismondy and Shaw’s Spaghetti on a Hot Dog Bun return in this story about a classroom that takes a stand against bullying.


In The Juice Box Bully we meet Pete, a new student at Mandell Elementary in Mr. Peltzer’s class. Pete has come in with a strategy he believes will work for him – bully others before they can bully him. But he doesn’t realize that he is the newest member of a classroom that has made a Promise – nobody will stand by and accept bad behaviour. When someone is mean, hurtful or disrespectful, everyone speaks up. So nobody accepts his behaviour but they also don’t accept when a classmate, in anger, tries to exclude Pete. This is shocking to Pete – “No one’s ever done that before, why did you stand up for me?” Ralph explains, “I’m not a bystander. I don’t stand by and let mean things happen.”

This book prompted a lot of very thoughtful discussion in our classroom. Students noticed that students teamed up together to speak out against mean behaviour. They were also pretty shocked at how mean Pete could be! When he continued to be cruel to students, it was pretty upsetting. “He should be expelled!” someone shouted. But one student didn’t think so, “NoWhen I was in trouble, I remember how you dealt with it. You talked to me and then talked to the other student. I learned why what I did was wrong.” Whew, good to know we do some things right!

When Pete admitted that in his old school he had been bullied, things began to make sense.

Ricky: “Bullying can be like a disease. It can spread.”

Miami: “He was acting like that to protect himself. But it was not in a good way protecting.”

Seriously, read children a great book to get them thinking and they are absolutely brilliant.

We were pretty impressed with the Promise that this fictional classroom had made.

Kevin: “If you bully it spreads but it doesn’t work in this class. They stand up for others.”

Jena: “We are learning about bystanders. That’s when you are just watching the bullying happen and not saying anything. In this book, they won’t be bystanders.”

Alyson: “Just watching is not helping – your tummy tightens up and it feels like you are turning into a bad person.”

Ricky: “It’s kinda hard though and sometimes it doesn’t work. It worked here because they were in a group.”

Kevin: “So they had more power!”

We discussed how this teaches us that we have to work together and be serious to create a community that will not tolerate bullying. Not easy. But absolutely essential. Big question: How do we create that feeling of community – starting in classrooms and spreading throughout the school?

Pink Day in our classroom!

We have been sharing this lovely book recommended by Ms. Hong at Strathcona Library – You and Me Together – Moms, Dads, and Kids Around the World by Barbara Kerley – a few pages here and there all week. It is a wonderful collection of photos of parents interacting with their children – doing the most natural of things – making a mess, telling a tale, taking a nap or catching a bus. Images from all over the world – make the diversity we can celebrate a truly beautiful and yet everyday thing. Joy within families, in the daily routines of life – just lovely. My students have loved guessing where in the world the photos were taken. Sometimes we are exactly right and sometimes not even close! The text accompanying the photos in the back gives us a little story behind each picture.

I have been waiting for Pink Day to share this amazing book with my students. Spaghetti on a Hot Dog Bun is written by Maria Dismondy and vibrantly illustrated by Kimberly Shaw-Peterson. The picture of Lucy, eyes welling up with tears after she has been bullied is so so powerful! The message of this book is all about courage – courage to stand up for yourself but also courage to forgive and reach out to others. Lucy has been bullied by Ralph in some truly nasty ways. When he gets stuck on the monkey bars, she has the opportunity to get back at him. Instead she realizes, looking at him so full of fear, that just like her Papa Gino told her, Ralph has a heart with feelings. Lucy offers her help, demonstrating courage to do the right thing – treat others the way she wants to be treated.

We used this book as a springboard for our Pink Day writing and discussions.

Hajhare: I learned that words can be strong but you can stand up if you are bullied.

Ricky: If someone bullies you, never bully them back. Paybacks aren’t nice. Bullying and fighting change your body. If someone bullies you, you will need all the courage you have to stand up.

Miami: Why do bullies bully? Do they learn it from someone? Do they do it for a reason? That question I can’t figure out.

Our school paraded around the grounds on a freezing February day holding pink balloons. Our message floated above our heads and rang true in our hearts as we marched to take a stand against bullying together.

Picture Books we read this week

While searching through the library for interesting picture books, I came across Oma’s Quilt. I pulled it off the shelf because it is illustrated by Stephane Jorisch (who also illustrated Suki’s Kimono – one of my favourite books). Then I noticed it was written by Canadian author, Paulette Bourgeois (author of the Franklin books and Big Sarah’s Little Boots) This book was bound to be a good one!  I tried it out with our reading group.  The story:  Emily’s Oma (grandmother) has to move to a retirement home and she is very reluctant to do so.  What about her precious things? Her neighbours? Cooking apple strudel? Even the bowling alley at the home doesn’t change her mind (smelly shoes!) While Emily and her mother are sorting through Oma’s possessions, Emily has a wonderful idea. Why not make a memory quilt for Oma!? Some students made text to text connections to Eve Bunting‘s The Memory String.  This book received a big round of applause.  Look for it in the library!

We have been reading a lot of Howard B Wigglebottom books to help us learn about ourselves and our relationships. Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns about Bullies teaches us about the importance of asking for help when bullying doesn’t stop. Howard has a little voice inside his head that tells him Be brave, Be bold, A teacher must be told. But it isn’t always easy to trust our intuition and Howard suffers many unpleasant interactions with the Snorton twins before he finally decides to report their behaviour. Finally, he can sleep easily, knowing that he was brave, he was bold when his teacher was finally told. “I am okay. I am safe.” he assures himself at the end.  Such an important book!

This book tells us about Winston, the bear from Churchill, Manitoba who decides to mobolize a group of polar bears to teach the tourists who come to see the polar bears about the effects of global warming on the melting ice in the Arctic.  “Ice is nice!” the bears chant during their protest march. We learn that we must all do our part to protect the Earth. “Recycle!”  “Walk, Bike, Ride!” “Solar Power!”  “Turn down the furnace!” Winston of Churchill by Jean Davies Okimoto was the winner of the Green Earth Book Award. This book is also in Seymour’s library.

Happy Reading!