BULLYING: A GUIDE
Macaroni Boy by Katherine Ayres
Blubber by Judy Blume
Spider Boy by Ralph Fletcher
True Blue by Jeffrey Lee
Feather 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.
Fifth-grader Jill Brenner succumbs to the power of the most popular girl in the class and joins her in tormenting Linda Fischer, a vulnerable overweight girl who gives a report on whales and earns the name Blubber. The girls do mean things to Blubber until one day the tide turns, and Jill finds herself the outsider and the victim.
1. Wendy is the most popular girl in Mrs. Minish’s fifth grade class. Ask the class to describe Wendy. Cite evidence from the novel that Wendy is a “troublemaker.” How does Wendy misuse her popularity? Why does Jill fall to Wendy’s power?
2. Discuss why Linda is such an easy target for bullies. Describe her feelings when the girls do and say mean things to her. Ask the class to discuss what Linda could have done to help her situation.
3. Describe Jill and Tracy’s friendship. How is Tracy more perceptive about Wendy than Jill? Discuss whether Tracy would participate in bullying Blubber if she were in Mrs. Minish’s class. How is it sometimes easier to see through a situation from the outside?
4. Engage the class in a discussion about whether Mrs. Minish, the teacher, realizes what is going on between the girls. Find passages in the novel that indicate that Mrs. Minish is an “uninformed” teacher. What can teachers and school administrators do to eliminate problems with bullying?
5. Wendy tries to convince Jill and Tracy that it was Linda who squealed on them for putting eggs in Mr. Machinist’s mailbox on Halloween. Tracy doubts the accusation, and Jill suggests that Linda be given a trial. How is this incident the turning point in the novel? What are the lessons that Jill learns?
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/teachers
RELATED INTERNET SITES
No Bully Alliance
This site answers questions about bullying.
National Mental Health Association
This site from the National Mental Health Association discusses the widespread problem of bullying in schools, and suggests ways to help.
Focus Adolescent Services
The website for Focus Adolescent Services discusses what parents and teachers should know about bullying.
Bullying and Your Child
Types of bullying (e.g. physical, verbal, racial, sexual, and emotional intimidation) are discussed at this site.
Bullying: Information for Parents and Teachers
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.
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.