BULLYING: A GUIDE
by Katherine AyresBlubber
by Judy BlumeSpider Boy
by Ralph FletcherTrue Blue
by Jeffrey LeeFeather Boy
by Nick Springer
The books in this guide all deal with bullying. Use the questions to open discussion with your students on this important topic. Additional themes include challenges, friendships growing up, peer pressure, and self-discovery.
Bullying isn’t a new problem in schools. Almost all adults will say that they either encountered or knew a bully in their childhood. Some will say they were victimized, and others will admit to being innocent bystanders. And, some may even reveal that they were bullies themselves.
No one wants to be called names or teased and taunted. No one wants to be left out of a ballgame or a school activity. No one wants their personal belongings ruined or their secrets revealed. New kids in school, and children who are different, especially mentally and physically challenged kids, are often the targets. These kids are already on the outside, and therefore vulnerable. Bullies are seeking attention and want to feel important. They feed their low self-esteem by being mean to others.
Newspapers, magazines, television and radio news are filled with incidents of schoolyard bullying. Why has bullying become such a worldwide issue in schools today? Is bullying the beginning of school violence? Whatever the reasons, schools and parents must develop ways of helping children cope with the local school bully. Children who are being bullied are often quiet about it. The bully may have threatened them if they “tattle” or they may feel embarrassed.
HOW TO RESPOND
Observant adults will notice if a child is quieter than usual, suddenly afraid of going to school, shows a drop in grades, and doesn’t want to play with friends or participate in after school activities. Ask questions. Engage them in conversation about the way they are feeling. Role-play a hypothetical incident. Encourage them to talk with someone they trust. Suggest they write about their feelings in a journal. Give them books to read.
Set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the Great Depression, 12-year-old Mike Costa risks a bloody battle with Andy Simms, the school bully, when he sets out to solve the unexplained illnesses and deaths plaguing his neighborhood.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Ask the class to discuss what causes a person like Andy Simms to become a bully. Why is Mike Costa his special target? Why is Simms so upset that Mike follows him home? How does seeing Andy’s living situation help Mike to better understand him?
2. Mike has no problem coming face to face with Andy Simms. What gives him the courage to face the bully? Compare how Mike Costa deals with his bully to the way Bobby Ballenger deals with Chick Hall in Spider Boy.
3. Joseph, Mike’s friend, suggests that they recruit his older brothers and Mike’s uncles to go with them when they face Andy and his gang. Why doesn’t Mike like the idea? Discuss whether Joseph is a coward. How and why does Mike’s father support his fights with Andy?
4. Andy Simms holds the key to the mystery of why people are getting sick. Mike and Joseph plot ways to get Andy to talk. Joseph wants to beat it out of Andy, but Mike has a different theory–“If you wanted somebody’s help, you had to act polite, even if he was the scum of the earth.” (p. 156) Explain how Mike’s theory works with Andy.
5. Mike solves the mystery by using his head and his heart. Discuss the times when Mike uses his head? When does his heart take over? How might Mike Costa be good at conflict resolution? Andy Simms does say thank-you to Mike Costa. Why is it unlikely that they will become friends?
About this Author
INTERVIEW WITH JUDY BLUME
Pat Scales (PS): Blubber
has been popular with kids since the day it was first published. They continue to read it, and pass it around to their friends. How did you decide to write this novel?
Judy Blume (JB): When my daughter was in fifth grade, she would come home at night and tell us stories about what was going on in her classroom. She was the shy, quiet kid, and the observer, like Rochelle in the book. She was clearly disturbed by what was going on around her. One day she told us that some of her classmates, directed by the class leader, had put a girl in the class on trial. But I don’t think my daughter felt brave enough to jump in and do anything about it. It’s scary because you never know if someone will turn on you, and do that to you. That’s why I think a lot of kids keep quiet.
PS: I think the book remains popular because there are so many kids who identify with each of the characters. There is a Wendy, Linda, and Jill in almost every classroom. And, of course, there are bystanders who, like your daughter, are watching. They all get something out this book, because they can identify in some way.
JB: Pat, you’ve worked with kids for years in schools and you’ve met a lot of kids like Wendy. What do you think makes a Wendy do what she does?
PS: I think a kid like Wendy is seeking popularity, or seeking attention. And if she feels that she is succeeding, she will go after it even more. Sometimes a Wendy is jealous of other classmates, and to bully makes her feel better. It’s typical for a Wendy to tease the kids who are different and vulnerable–kids like Linda Fisher who is perceived by her classmates as being overweight. Picking on a kid like Linda elevates a person like Wendy, and makes her seem important.
JB: Mrs. Minish wasn’t a tuned in teacher, and could have stopped the situation before it got out of hand. Pat, you work with teachers. Do you see the difference in classrooms when teachers are aware of the social dynamics?
PS: Sure, there is a big difference when a teacher is aware of what is going on in the classroom regarding the social interaction of the students. When a teacher is willing to get involved and open a discussion with kids, they can often stop hurtful situations. One of the best ways to deal with bullying and other negative interaction is through using novels like Blubber–allowing the fictional characters to help kids see through this real life situation, and relate it to their own lives.
JB: I think what most kids really want to know is what they can do if it happens to them.
PS: The first thing you should do is to talk with your teacher. If that doesn’t work, you should go to the school counselor or principal. And, you should always talk with your parents, or adults you feel close to, about it. If there’s another kid in the school, maybe not even in your class, but a best friend you can trust, it’s a good idea to talk with them and maybe take them with you when you talk to the principal or counselor, so you don’t feel alone.
JB: A kid who is being bullied feels so humiliated, and because it is such a terrible experience, they don’t want to talk about it. But, like you, I believe the best thing you can do if it happens to you is don’t keep it a secret, because keeping it a secret makes it that much worse. One kid wrote to me and said, “The fear is sickening.” So, don’t keep that fear in. Talk to the people you trust most.
Additional Reading and Activities
Roy Eberhardt, the main character in Hoot
, Mike Costa in Macroni Boy
, and Robert Nobel in Feather Boy
each become involved in social causes. Compare and contrast their social cause, and discuss how their involvement helps them come to terms with their bully.
List the traits of each of the bullies in the 5 novels featured in this guide. How are they alike? How are they different? Which of the victims suffers the most pain? What advice would you give to the victims?
Ask the class to brainstorm classroom rules against bullying. How would such rules be helpful to teachers like Mrs. Minish in Blubber
? Consider the above 5 novels and discuss which teachers appear the most aware of the bullying problem. Which parents in the novels appear the most tuned in to the fact that their child is being bullied? How should students, parents, and teachers work together to stop bullying?
To read the complete teachers guide for Hoot
, please visit www.randomhouse.com/teachersRELATED INTERNET SITES
No Bully Alliancewww.nobully.org
This site answers questions about bullying.
National Mental Health Associationwww.nmha.org/pbedu/backtoschool/bullying.cfm
This site from the National Mental Health Association discusses the widespread problem of bullying in schools, and suggests ways to help.
Focus Adolescent Serviceswww.focusas.com/Bullying.html
The website for Focus Adolescent Services discusses what parents and teachers should know about bullying.
Bullying and Your Childwww.kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/bullies.html
Types of bullying (e.g. physical, verbal, racial, sexual, and emotional intimidation) are discussed at this site.
Bullying: Information for Parents and Teacherswww.lfcc.on.ca/bully.htm
Information for parents and teachers on bullying. This is an excerpt from the second edition of A.S.A.P.: A School-based Anti-Violence Program
This guide has been prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville.