Turns out that while sticks and stones can break your bones, words, too, can really hurt. In honor of proving that out-of-date childhood adage incorrect, the week of January 21st-25th has been set aside as No Name Calling Week. Schools all over the country will observe the occasion with Anti-Bullying messages and thought-provoking activities that emphasize the idea that Words Matter! Check out these great children's book titles that can help you reinforce this important message at home:
The Bully Blockers Club by Teresa Bateman
The Bully Blockers Club harnesses the power of the group in standing up to -- and stopping (err, make that "blocking") -- bullies. In this cute story for pre-school and early elementary school readers, Grant Grizzly teases Lottie Raccoon mercilessly, withstanding all of her best individual efforts to ignore him and walk away. But when Lottie rallies others kids who have been bullied by Grant into a club designed to stop the Grizzly in his taunting tracks, they find strength in numbers and success in standing up for one another. The Bully Blockers Club is a great book for sparking discussion with young kids about bullies, bystanders, and standing up for what is right.
Bullies Never Win by Margery Cuyler
This easy-to-relate-to children's book tells the tale of Brenda Bailey, a bully who persistently and relentlessly taunts and teases her classmate, Jessica. Author Margery Cuyler creates an accurate portrayal of how targets like Jessica typically respond to bullying, including experiencing anxiety, losing sleep, quitting sports, changing their style of dress, and fearing asking for help. She also uses Jessica to show young readers that the best way to handle bullies is to stand up to them in assertive ways. Jessica's bold "Toothpicks may be thin, but bullies never win," is a triumphant moment of self-defense that can inspire and embolden elementary school-aged readers.
The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill
I love the power of a well-written rhyme and this story has it -- and so much more. When I saw this title on a bookstore shelf, I quickly assumed it would be a tale about relational aggression. Mean Jean, the Recess Queen is, in fact, not your typical girl bully, however. She dominates the playground with outward physical aggression, "swooshing, pushing, and lollapalooshing" the other kids. What makes the tale even less stereotypical (and even more effective) is the way in which the Recess Queen is disarmed by the least likely of her peers. The Recess Queen is an unexpectedly good story about the power of kindness and friendship in transforming relationships.
Don't Laugh at Me by Steven Seskin
The text for this children's book began as a song about encouraging kindness among children. Now, Don't Laugh at Me is the anthem for Peter Yarrow's (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) educational program, Operation Respect. Sold as a book/CD combo, this set imparts an important message about respect for differences and the importance of language in communicating worthiness, love, and compassion.
My Secret Bully by Trudi Ludwig
My Secret Bully, written for tween readers, lifts the lid off of the hidden culture of relational aggression, otherwise known as girl bullying. It tells the story of Monica and Katie --two girls who have been friends since Kindergarten, but who now are facing a rift in their relationship, as Katie begins to exclude and embarrass her former friend in front of their other classmates. In tackling this painful subject of the ways in which some girls use friendship as a weapon, Ludwig provides an accurate and not-often-addressed portrait of a young girl's anguish at the hands of a frenemy. My Secret Bully is not a light-hearted portrayal of bullying, nor does it offer pat answers, but it does address an important issue in the lives of upper elementary and middle school-aged girls and can serve as a great springboard for discussion. For this very reason, I feature My Secret Bully as a Group Discussion activity in my book, Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Cope with Bullying. It has never yet failed in generating great conversations among kids who relate so closely to Monica's experiences.
One by Kathryn Otoshi
You know how sometimes a book comes along that you just know you will hold on to long after your child is done with it? Borrowing it from the library will not do -- you have to own it and you are certain it will be a top gift pick for any of your Mom friends. For me, that book is this one! Part of the magic of One is the significance of its message, conveyed in the simplest of terms and illustrations. This multi-award winner is one of the best books I've read (and I've read a lot!) on the subject of the power that one child can have to change a bullying situation and to stand up for themselves in a way that garners self-respect and promotes dignity for all.
Additional information, suggested resources, and engaging discussion ideas to use during No Name-Calling Week can be found online at www.nonamecallingweek.org
Signe Whitson, LSW is a licensed therapist and national educator on bullying. For more information, please visit her website at www.signewhitson.com.