literature to combat bullying

Using Literature to Combat Bullying

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I bet just about all of us can think back to a time in school when we were bullied in some way by someone.  As it turns out I was very fortunate in this regard.  I was bullied by one particular person two or three times (while she did behave in bullying ways, I would not consider her to be a bully in general).  But every single time, other people quickly shut her down.

We lived in a small town.  I was a gawky kid with glasses and too poor to wear name brand clothes.  But the majority of other kids at school did not give me a hard time about it.  Life at school was almost like one big huge extended family.

I have since learned that this experience is not necessarily what life in school looks like for many other students.  The bullies do their work, and many times there is nobody around to defend the victim.  Or the people who do see it turn the other way because they don't have the courage to do anything about it.

So what do we do to combat bullying at school?  We can use literature to combat bullying in our schools.  There are countless books for all ages that speak directly to both bullying and the victims of bullying.  
And there are even more books that can teach our students what bullying looks like and how to deal with it, as a bully, a victim, or a bystander.  I would like to talk about some of these books and how you can use them in your classrooms and homes.  I will be focusing mostly on the middle school level, although there is great flexibility in which ages you can work through these books with.

literature to combat bullying

What are the Benefits to Using Literature to Combat Bullying?

Using literature to combat bullying in the classroom as well as outside of the classroom is a great way to help students learn to cope with the issue.

Books that talk directly to the issue of bullying teach them how to work in ways that prevent them from displaying bullying behavior.  And it also helps them learn to defend themselves and others that are being bullied.

On the other hand, reading works of fiction that talk about characters being bullied is also a great tool to help teach kids about bullying, the harm it does, and how to prevent and correct it.

It shows students what bullying looks like in real life, which in turn helps them to recognize and properly deal with it in their own lives.

How to Navigate This Article

I set up this article to first allow the teacher to learn about the problem and gain some insight into solutions with what I have found to be one of the best books available to address this issue.  Then I will give you some suggestions for books that speak directly to the issue of bullying.  Finally, I will give you some great books that contain bullying in them as worked out through the characters.  That will help your students learn to apply what they have learned to real life situations.

So with all that, let's begin!

Just for Teachers (or Any Adults Who Want to Combat Bullying)

Before I begin with some of the best literature choices for students to combat bullying, let me start with what I think has been the best book for adults to clearly understand the ins and outs of bullying among children.  This book was the inspiration for this article.  I hope to do a full review of it soon.

Confronting Bullying:  Literacy as a Tool For Character Education

So Confronting Bullying starts out by outlining the problem of bullying.  Roxanne Henkin makes these points regarding bullying:

  • Over 160,000 American students stay home from school because of fear of bullying.
  • 30 percent of students can be drawn into the cycle of bullying, either as aggressor, victim, or both.
  • 60 percent of former bullies in school have a criminal record by the time  they are 24 years old.
  • While male bullying is more often outwardly seen, female bullying is just as strong if not stronger (think Mean Girls here).
  • The bystanders who witness bullying are often very deeply affected as well.

The Solution

She then goes on to offer the following help for teachers and parents:

  • Tips and suggestions to help you implement anti-bullying lessons in your daily lesson planning.
  • Several web links that will help give you all the resources you need.
  • Specific lessons to help get you started.

Finally, Ms. Henkin has compiled a list of 200 books that you can use in your classroom to help you use literature to combat bullying.  She sorts them by topic and theme.  And they are appropriate for all different ages and reading levels.

That list of 200 books alone is more than I can do in this post and makes the purchase of Confronting Bullying very much worth its price and worth your time to read.

One more thing I would like to point out is that even though this book is written with teachers in mind, the information is incredibly valuable for parents as well.  It is a wonderful way to teach your kids emotional maturity and social skills.  And many of the problems at school move to the neighborhood after school hours.

Plus, if you are willing to address this issue with your children in a kind and loving way, they will be willing to reach out to you for help if they find themselves caught up in a bullying situation.

Books That Address Bullying Directly

A Smart Girl's Guide: Friendship Troubles (Revised): Dealing with fights, being left out & the whole popularity thing 

This book is from American Girl, so you definitely won't want to do this one with your whole class.  You will need to split up the girls and the boys.  But that isn't necessarily a bad thing because bullying behaves differently in boys versus girls.  Therefore, we should feel comfortable treating it differently at times.

Anyway, the reason I love this book so much is because it doesn't just deal with bullying.  It also deals with backstabbing, triangles, mean girl antics, and just social injustices that may or may not be intentional.

The good part of that is not only are girls learning how to combat bullying and bad behavior.  They are also learning how to identify it in themselves and correct it.

One of the best things we can do for our students (boys and girls) is to give them enough social awareness to show them that grace and kindness are so much better qualities to life in the real world.

The Weird Series


This is a series of 4 books that has been written by two best friends who grew up experiencing bullying and wanted to do something about it for the current generation of children.

The 4 books in the series are:  Nobody, Weird, Tough, and Dare.  They all deal with a different aspect of bullying.

These books are actually targeted at K-4th grade, but the reason I am wholeheartedly recommending them for middle school is because the issues are virtually the same and the illustrations support middle schoolers relating to the material.  In fact, the illustrations are actually MORE appropriate for middle schoolers than elementary school students.  And the length of the reading in each book is perfect for the teacher to address the situation accurately and completely.

The best feature of these books, besides the amazingly good storylines, is that in the back of the book there is a guide for students, teachers and parents.  And there is even a discussion guide included in the back of the book.  These are pretty much the perfect books for combating bullying.

#iamawitness: Confronting Bullying

This book makes the list because it is an excellent choice for having a discussion about bullying directly with your students.  It is part of the #movement series.

Also, it's a great choice because it deals specifically with issues of bullying as well as cyberbullying, which could be a bigger issue than physical bullying at this point in time.  It also deals with the fallout of bullying such as school shootings and suicide.

I love that it also talks about efforts from governmental agencies to combat bullying such as Melania Trump's Be Best campaign and The Megan Meier and Tyler Clementi foundations.

And finally, this book is aligned with state standards so it can be easier to implement it into your already established routine.

Novels That Touch on Bullying

Just Like Jackie

Just like Jackie is a touching novel that will allow your students to journey through her difficult life and learn empathy for her situation.  They will come to appreciate how Robbie fights to make things  right in her world.

Boys and girls alike will appreciate this book and you will have tons of material to discuss with your students what doing difficult things looks like.

Cloud Busting

This is a very different book because it is written in poetic form rather than standard prose.

It is the story of Sam, who is forced to be friends with Davey, and he really doesn't want to disrupt his school social life.

But then he starts spending time with Davey and realizes they have a lot in common and he enjoys spending time with him.

Now he must reconcile his choices with his current social status.  And he soon realizes that sometimes the difficult choice is the better and more rewarding choice.

This book is perfect for middle schoolers.  They are just starting to feel the pressure of popularity and social standing.  And this book will help them put it into proper perspective in light of real world life.

The Eighteenth Emergency

This is one of my favorite books for using literature combat bullying because it has just the right amount of silliness mixed in for middle schoolers.  And it has great truth.

When middle schoolers are in the middle of trying to figure out how the whole social world works, this book empathizes with how big of a deal this feels like when you are in those difficult grades.

Benjie and Ezzie have figured out how to conquer all of the dangers in the world:  getting bitten by a tarantula, shark attacks, and quicksand.  But nothing has prepared them to protect themselves form Marv Hammerman, the biggest and meanest boy  in school.

Your kids will love using humor to talk about a very scary issue for some of them.

literature to combat bullying

So What Happened?  The Rest of the Story

So what happened with my middle school experience with a bully?  The last time she tried to bully me, we were in homeroom in 6th grade.  The teacher had to leave for a few minutes, and then this girl randomly started saying random things about me to embarrass me in front of the whole class.  I don't remember saying anything at the time because the things she said were all true.  But they were all also out of my control.  That is because I was raised in an abusive house growing up.  And although I hid most of it very well (there were no school counselors back then), some things still came out.

So anyway, she told the class a couple of really embarrassing things, and then my one of my neighbors who was also in the same homeroom as me, spoke up.  He didn't have to.  But he did.  He told her to shut up because I could not help what my mother made me do.  He was my hero that day.  But I don't even remember if I ever thanked him.

A Missed Opportunity

A little over 20 years later, I was back in my hometown and on visit to  my parents house.  I asked about him, and they said he was still at the house across the street.  I thought about going to see him and see how he was doing.  But I got busy and didn't make it over there.

The next day, I was headed back home--a 12-hour drive.  When I got home there was a message on my answering machine.  It was my father telling me that my neighbor friend had died the night before.  He was only 36 years old.

I missed my opportunity to tell him how much I appreciated what he did for me that day.  And he probably never really thought anything of what he did.  But I did.  And I should have told him.

The Moral

So while this post is actually about helping middle schoolers to combat bullying, it could also be about us making sure that when others help us out in bullying situations, we let them know how much we appreciate that they went that extra mile for us.

And as for the bully, she never really bothered me after that.  I would like to think his words allowed her to think about what she was doing and she moved on in healthier relationships with her fellow students.

Here is a video from Dr. Liz Laugeson that speaks about how to help our students or kids handle bullying:

Conclusion

So these are the ways that I have found work really well to use literature to combat bullying in the classroom.

Have you had some experience in this area and found some great ideas that worked for you?  Or is there an experience in your own middle school years that you can share with your students or kids to help them see that they are not alone in their struggle?

I would love to hear about those things--just leave a comment below!

To read more about how to be more encouraging in your classroom or home, check out these other articles:

Conflict Resolution in the Middle School Classroom

10 Perfect Picture Books to Teach Students Emotional Intelligence--Some Are Free!

Classroom Culture:  How Do Your Students Feel?

How to Be Encouraging in the Classroom

How to Identify and Help Students With Eating Disorders:  A Guest Post


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Comments 105

  1. Sorry about your friend passing away, and so young. Such a shame. Regarding bullying it can have an impact on your whole life. Some people never recover from the trauma of being bullied as children. Great post and a very good list of books on the topic.

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  2. Sorry for your friend passing away. Sending love to you. I do love that you want a situation to help children with bullying. It is a great concept to put in the classroom so there are coping strategies. Excellent article!!!

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  3. Great suggestions. I never knew there was so much literature on how to combat bullying nor was I aware of any books to help kids combat it themselves. We never had any of this when I was growing up.

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      There were literally hundreds of books when I was doing the research. I actually wanted to feature one and didn’t bookmark it. I tried to back up and find it for 2 hours and finally gave up. Anyway, there are still tons of great resources out there for all ages.

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  4. Ugh, bullying stinks. I am glad there are books out there to help. It’s a shame that so many kids are bullied these days. I am sorry about your neighbor friend.

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      You are right, Shruti. Bullying is everywhere. That is one good reason why we need to be as kind and loving to all that we meet. We have no idea what they are going through behind closed doors.

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  5. This is such a sound idea to combat bullying. It’s a horrible thing for any child to go through. Well done for covering this concept!

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  6. Literature is very powerful! More powerful than you dare to think. It is a great tool to work with bulling issues

  7. I believe that literature is a great way to combat bowling but I also believe that educatign the parents of the bully kids is more necessary. Kids learn by example and sometimes those bullies are having horrible life after home.

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      I agree, Jessica. Sometimes the only good example some kids see is the one that is outside of the home. Teachers have a very limited time to speak life and truth into their students.

  8. What a great article. I don’t remember much emphasis being put on combatting bullying when I was in school, so it’s great that they’re are so many resources available these days to deal with it.

  9. When I was younger I was bullied a lot, beaten up sometimes until I said its enough and learned how to defend myself. Now when Im a mum my worst fear is that my sons wont be bullied especially the older one since he is very fragile. What we need is to spread awareness about this in this age bulling cant be allowed !! And bullies needs to be punish no matter what, kid or not they need to learn a lesson. As well as educate parents of those kids.

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  10. Oh no, that is heart breaking, if I ever invent a time machine I will let you know. In the meantime, it is often said that the good ones die young. Bullying can be stop by educating everyone about it from a young age especially anyone tempted to be a silent onlooker.

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      A time machine would be awesome, Alvern! And yes, maybe with time, we can teach everyone that together we can conquer this!

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      I am sorry that you feel that way Amber. I know you are not alone in your thoughts. We should be happy and not fearful of what our kids are doing. I hope that when they go to school they are surrounded by good people and support instead of bullying.

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      Thank you. I actually spent about 3 hours talking with his sister last night. I had shown her the article and wanted her to know what her brother had done. It was a super sweet time for both of us because we had not talked in a lot of years. And seriously, you would think that as far as society has come that bullying would be a thing of the past instead of stronger than ever. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Storytelling is always one of the best ways to promote learning. And learning to stop bullying is included in that. Stories help us see the world in a different light. And they help us to think of others differently.

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  12. Bullying can really affect you as a child and shape the adult you will become. It also really ruins your school experience. Imagine dreading going to school every single day. It is great that more and more books are tackling the issue. Especially novels for kids which combine educational and enjoyable content.

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      Exactly. I can’t imagine having to go somewhere every day that I know I would have to face bullying. I hope kids realize there is always somewhere to go and are able to find those safe places and people.

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      I know, Colleen! I love seeing so many options in books! I never would have thought to look for them on my own until I saw some recommended.

  13. It is such a shame that bullying even exists at school, online, etc. But glad to know there are lots of resources to help.

  14. Def some great suggestions that I want to look into. my daughter is starting first grade and so far hasn’t dealt with much bullying but these are great lessons to teach before it happens!

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  15. I am really sorry about your friend. He was so young.

    Thanks for sharing this list of books about bullying. I need to check them out. My kid is going to start school next year and I need to be prepare

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      Thank you, Daniel. He was so young. I hope that your child never has to deal with these issues, but if so, you will be able to help prepare him/her.

  16. Sorry for your friend who passed away. He was really so young. Sending hugs and love to you right away. Thanks for suggesting so many books. This really helps

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      Thank you, Sundeep. He was so young. I still get a chance to talk to his sister who was always a close friend when we were growing up.

  17. Bullying is a pervasive phenomenon. This study examined what
    teachers think encourages bullying among young people, and what effects
    teachers believe reader response strategies would have on their students. The
    study found teachers implementing reader response strategies in discussing
    literature were able to influence behavior in students and reduce bullying

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  18. Bullying is really a very serious topic not only in schools but in a society. I am glad that there is already a book about bullying.

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  19. I have always believed that those who bully other students in school are really committing a crime. Because it has a negative effect on the person being bullied while those who bully do not understand the seriousness. This was a great perspective and so helpful for teachers and parents both as it is a joint responsibility. Also those affected also know a way out.

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      I agree that it is a crime. It is assault against a person, whether physical or emotional. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  20. Wonderful information, I’m going to send it to my teacher friend as she’s always looking for good ways to deal with bullying

  21. So sad and inspiring stories, a missed opportunity is really a heart touching, we have not control on time, and we don’t know the future. The weird series of 4 books are inspiring

  22. It’s so sad that bullying is still such a huge issue in most parts of the world. I really like the idea of reading books to help with this issue, it sound very simple but very effective!

  23. I was bullied because of my obsession with literature. Because of this, I feel like using literature to combat bullying is an amazing way to go!

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  24. Thanks a lot for suggesting these books.
    I was bullied at school.like you I didn’t consider him to be a bully , I’m sure he didn’t think he was a bully either,I guess he was a guy just being a guy.

  25. I had no idea about literature to combat bullying and thanks for the info. Also there are books available on this that could be really beneficial for those who have to face this.

  26. Literature is an interesting way to start a conversation with children about bullying. However, if a bully lays their hands on my kid I teach them to go all in and hammer the bully. And if they talk sideways to my kid my kid better say something back.

  27. fantastic info ! as soon as i finish writing this comment i be forwarding your blog to few teacher friends i know kind regards Pati robins @ style-squeeze blog

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  28. You were lucky that people shut the girl down right away. In my profession I see kids bullying others and it’s always something I shut down instantly too, but the hurt is still there.

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  29. I think the series Harry Potter does a great job of educating kids about bullying. In this manner, it helps to teach kids the dos and don’ts as well as why bullying should never be tolerated.

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      I agree, Kenny! There are a lot of great things about Harry Potter. How they deal with ugly things is at the top of the list!

  30. Bullying has long been something we need to address and sadly we haven’t been successfully doing so. You’re sharing some amazing information here.

  31. I experienced bullying a lot when I was in primary school – I really wish this kind of awareness and literature was available back then.

    When I look at my friend’s children, I’m so grateful that it exists now. Thanks so much for sharing!

  32. This is a really cool idea! Books and literature are a great way to help kids connect with various emotions and situations – including bullying.

  33. I really like this idea. I think teaching kids to understand why bullying is bad by showing them how to empathize rather than just punishing the behavior is great. When bullies get punished, it usually just makes them bully more because they blame the other kid and not their behavior.

  34. Kids suffering from bullying can find a lot of help in books, teachers need to know how they can use this to help their students.

  35. Books are a wonderful way to introduce concepts to children and to help them learn. There’s a number of incredible books. Julia Cook is one of my favourite authors for educating children. I’m deeply sorry to hear about the passing of your neighbour. Very grateful that he had the courage and understanding to speak up for you.

  36. First off, I am so sorry for you loss!

    Its always great to read of advocates vs bullying, the world need more people that start saying no, in the right way 🙂

  37. Love this, let’s spread awareness about this matter! I also liked the books you recommended and I’ve already read some of these.

  38. This is great. Thank you so much for sharing this. My son is going to secondary school next year and some of these books he might find interesting. Luckily he didn’t have any problems with bullying yet, but it’s better to be prepared.

  39. Thank you so much for sharing. this is such a great collection of books and very useful for me and other moms out there. I am sharing this for sure with friends and family!

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