One of my favorite childhood bedtime books was Gabrielle and Selena by Peter Desbarats. It’s the story of two girls who swap identities. Gabrielle goes to Selena’s home and Selena goes to Gabrielle’s. Their parents go along, calling Gabrielle “Selena” and vice versa. In the end, the girls realize they prefer being their true selves, but not before they’ve had an adventure. It’s a great lesson, but as a kid, I just thought it was a great story.
Educators agree reading to your children promotes their reading literacy. We believe books also promote emotional literacy: the literacy of acceptance, empathy for others, and self-respect. In that spirit, we’re sharing some of our favorite reads.
FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon. This charming and beautifully illustrated book is the story of a young bat that is accidentally separated from her Mommy bat and ends up in a birds’ nest. The caring mother bird adopts Stellaluna, but problems ensue when the little bat’s ways (like hanging upside down) start rubbing off on her new bird-siblings. It’s a celebration of how we can all learn something new from one another while staying true to ourselves. BONUS: It’s a biology lesson to boot, with extra information on the lives of bats at the end.
Billy the Baadly Behaving Bully Goat by Staci Schwartz handles a serious problem with a gentle touch. With clever rhyme and engaging illustrations (also done by Staci), she gives a 360o look around bullying – the bully, the target, and the bystanders (adults and “kids”). As with humans, the solution to goat bullying is respect for all and a healthy dose of empathy – engagingly conjured with magic and help from Billy’s family and peers. A great book for sparking classroom and bedtime conversations!
Staci Schwartz explores themes of acceptance in The New Bear on the Block – a lovely, light-hearted tale of a multicultural animal neighborhood, slightly shaken up by their newest bear neighbor. It packs some wise lessons for kids of all ages: things are not always as they seem, don’t pre-judge your (new) neighbors or friends, give everyone another chance, and richness comes from the blending of differences, even with some challenges. It demonstrates what respect looks like in action, even during stress or conflict, and how looking for the best in others, instead of the worst, creates a far happier ending.
FOR OLDER KIDS
Bully by Patricia Polacco. There may be no R-rated scenes in this picture book, but it’s Mean Girls for the middle-school set. Lyla Dean moves to a new city with her family, eager to make friends at school. She instantly bonds with a tech-savvy boy named Jamie. Then she’s drawn into a clique of popular girls whose idea of loyalty is actually being disloyal to others. Lyla’s faced with some tough decisions about the meaning of friendship.
Everybody Sees The Ants by AS King. It seems a shame to attach the phrase “young adult” to young adult fiction these days, as a lot of YA fiction is as good as any adult fiction out there. Case in point: Everybody Sees the Ants, a finalist for the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. If you liked Hunger Games, you’ll like this – the story of a young hero with some magic realism mixed in. Like Katniss, Lucky Linderman has to fight for his life in a world in which adults don’t do much to help. Unlike her, he lives in modern-day America and has no bow and arrow to protect him from a bully’s physical attacks. What he does have: imagination, self-awareness and a growing sense of self-worth.
MORE BOOKS THAT ADDRESS BULLYING
The Toronto Public Library Also Recommends:
One by Kathryn Otoshi. Teaches valuable lessons about common courtesy and standing up for yourself.
Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish by Kate Messner. This fun story contains a powerful message about inclusion and tackling aggression in a positive way.
Say Something by Peggy Moss. This book encourages bystanders to be upstanders, inspiring people to speak up when they witness others being mistreated.
The Hate List by Jennifer Brown. Val’s boyfriend has shot and killed several students and a teacher at school. She ends up under suspicion when a hate list – naming students who bullied Nick and Val – is discovered.