Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. A type of youth violence that threatens young people’s well-being, bullying can result in physical injuries, social and emotional problems, and academic problems. The harmful effects of bullying are frequently felt by not only the victims, but friends and families, and can hurt the overall health and safety of schools, neighborhoods, and society. A young person can be a perpetrator, a victim, or both. Even youth who have observed but not participated in bullying behavior report significantly more feelings of helplessness and less sense of connection and support from responsible adults (parents/schools) than youth who have not witnessed bullying behavior. In a comprehensive overview of current bullying prevention research conducted by government and higher education agencies (National Center for Educational Statistics, U.S. Dept of Education and Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D. and Sameer Hinduia, Ph.D. of the Cyberbullying Research Center) , it was found
one out of every five (20.2%) students report being bullied.
a higher percentage of male than of female students report being physically bullied, whereas a higher percentage of female than of male students reported being the subjects of rumors (18% vs. 9%) and being excluded from activities on purpose.
41% of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that they think the bullying would happen again.
of those students who reported being bullied, 13% were made fun of, called names, or insulted; 13% were the subject of rumors; 5% were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on; and 5% were excluded from activities on purpose.
a slightly higher portion of female than of male students report being bullied at school (24% vs. 17%). (
46% of bullied students report notifying an adult at school about the incident.
the reasons for being bullied reported most often by students include physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation.
the federal government began collecting data on school bullying in 2005, when the prevalence of bullying was around 28 percent.
one in five (20.9%) tweens (9 to 12 years old) has been cyberbullied, cyberbullied others, or seen cyberbullying.
49.8% of tweens (9 to 12 years old) said they experienced bullying at school and 14.5% of tweens shared they experienced bullying online.
The CDC reports effects of bullying:
Students who experience bullying are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, lower academic achievement, and dropping out of school.
Students who are both targets of bullying and engage in bullying behavior are at greater risk for both mental health and behavior problems than students who only bully or are only bullied.
It is essential that adolescents experience bullying and the effects of bullying, not in real life, but through novels. it is imperative that students, especially middle grade students, read novels about bullying to open conversations about this important topic and to discuss bullies, victims, bystanders, and upstanders, and the ongoing shifts among these roles. Novels can generate important conversations that adolescents need to hold and share truths that they need to know; stories can provide not only a mirror to those who are similar to them—or have faced similar situations—but also windows into those they may view as different from them. But, even more significantly, these novels can serve as maps to guide adolescents in working through conflicts and challenges and maps to help them navigate when they may become lost. Novels can help readers gain knowledge of themselves and empathy for others.
Here I review the 31 Upper Elementary, Middle Grade, and YAnovels I have read and can recommend in the last 4 years since those two guest-blogs. See a list of suggested books for younger readers at the end of the reviews.
All of Me by Chris Baron (verse novel)
Seventh grader Ari Rosensweig is fat, “so big that everyone stares.” (1) He is made fun of, bullied, called names. One time he is beat up, not even trying to defend himself. But he does make one friend, Pick, the only one who tries to learn the real Ari.
His parents fight. His mother is an artist, and the family moves frequently, his dad managing his mother’s art business. But when they move to the beach for the summer, Ari’s dad leaves and sees Ari infrequently.
“There are times that you can just be who you are. There are also times when your body betrays you. There are times when you feel like you can’t stop eating, because eating is the only way you know how to feel right again.” (67-68) But that summer Ari makes two new friends. And as he has let the haters make him into who he is, he now allows Pick, Lisa, and Jorge help him “to find the real me.” (145) He also receives the support of the rabbi who is training him for his Bar Mitzvah, his conversion to manhood under Jewish law. “’Maybe,’ the rabbi says, ‘it’s as simple as believing that you don’t have to be what others want you to be.’” (225)
His mother suggests a diet, but it seems to be a healthy diet and he sheds pounds. “This doesn’t look like me. It can’t be me. I don’t look like this, normal.” (209) On a camping trip with Jorge, Ari discards the diet book. “I don’t see a fat kid, not anymore. I simply see myself.” (267)
Finally, even though he has gained back some of the pounds (7 of them), he no longer feels like a failure because "it’s not about the weight”; it is about what the summer has brought: adventures, stories, and real friends. “Just me moving forward, finding my own way.” (311)
Told in lyrical free verse, this is a story that is needed by so many children. This is not a book about weight; it is the story of identity and friendships—and having power over what you can control. ------------
Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhoads
“Be you. Stay confident, visible. Even if others can’t see you.” (183)
Trey and Donte are biracial brothers, but Trey looks like his White father and 7th grader Donte takes after his Black mother. This didn’t seem to matter in their public school in NY where they both had lots of friends, but at Middlefield Prep in Boston, it does. Trey is a popular and respected athlete while Donte is taunted and bullied. Trey stands up for Donte when he can “Ellison brothers stick together” (47), but Alan, the school bully, leads his followers in a chant of “black brother, black brother.” It’s Alan who and wants “other students to see only my blackness. See it as a stain.” (34) and makes “me being darker than my brother a crime.” (44)
When Donte complains, “Everyone here bullies me. Teachers. Students. Whispers, sometimes outright shouts follow me.” (6), not only is Headmaster McGeary not sympathetic, he blames and even punishes him for crimes he has not committed. “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” (8). He calls the police and has Donte taken to jail for slamming his backpack at his own feet in frustration. Released from jail, his mom, a lawyer says, “This is how it starts. Bias. Racism. Plain and simple…” (24)
One option is to “Disappear. Be invisible.” (19), but Donte vows to beat Alan at his own game—fencing. With Trey’s help, he discovers Arden Jones, an African American Olympic fencer who works at the local Boys and Girls Club, and convinces Mr. Jones to coach him. As Donte gets stronger with the help of Coach, Trey, and his new friends at the Boys and Girls Club, he begins to regain a trust in people. “Prejudice is wrong. Wrong, it makes me doubt people.” (87) He learns his Coach’s history and how it is easy to lose oneself in people’s hatred. As Coach tells him when relating his own past failure, “I quit playing because I gave up on me. Became invisible.… Should’ve kept focused on my goals. Should’ve known bullies, biased people, can’t see clearly.” (182) His advice, “Don’t do anything for anyone else, Donte. Do it for you. Only you.” (131)
And most important, through fencing, Coach, his supportive family, and his new friends, Donte learns that he wants to fence, no longer to beat Alan and humiliate him but “to be the best.” (183)
Another powerful novel for 4th though 8th graders by Jewell Parker Rhoads, author of some Ninth Ward, Towers Falling, and Ghost Boys, this short novel, as did Ghost Boys, tackles racism—by adolescents, adults, and society‑head on. The sport of fencing, tied to honor and nobility and promoting good sportsmanship, is particularly appropriate; every fencing bout starts with a salute to your opponent and ends with a handshake. ------------
Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden (verse novel)
Four young adolescents on opposite sides of the country; four outsiders who feel alone; four who are connected through one act of kindness that generates multiple acts of support and encouragement that let them, and others, know they are not alone.
Libby comes from a family of bullies—her father, her older brother, and, by all accounts, her grandfather. Her mother and the rest of her family ignore her, making her feel unwelcome in her own home. Her school assumes any actions on her part are acts of bullying, but she is only trying to make her world prettier with paint and glitter. After she finds a rock left by her beloved former art teacher that states, “Create the world of your dreams,” she decides to do just that. I. Will. Not. Be. Like. Them. (11)
When Libby is given some index cards and colored pencils for a class essay assignment, she instead makes cards with pictures and positive sayings, such as “You are amazing.” (13) She decides to pass them out to “to “anybody who needs it…. Like if someone gets bullied and they’re feeling alone, then maybe this can help them remember that the bully isn’t always right.”(103) She makes more cards of encouragement and, grounded by her parents, even climbs out the window to distribute her cards. “What kind of person would sneak out into the rain to leave index cards around town for nobody in particular? A person who doesn’t have a choice.” (176)
Vincent is a seventh grader, across the country in Seattle, who doesn’t fit in, not at school and not at home where his single mother wants him to be more creative. Vincent is interested in triangles and puffins and being accepted for himself. But the boys at school bully him and call him a “girl,” like that is a negative thing. “I’m not trans, and I’m not gay. And I’m not a girl. It’s like T said. I’m just me.” (161)
T also lives in Seattle where they and their dog Peko live on the streets, having run away from a family who does not accept them. It’s possible to keep going. Keep going for longer than what anyone else would expect. (79) But flying away doesn’t solve everything. (143)
Also living in rural Vermont in a town near Libby, Jack, a 7th grader, is still grieving the accidental death of his younger brother Alex—Alex who loved glitter and butterflies. Jack has become a big brother to the younger students and a helper to the administrators of his 2-room school and, when the grant that is keeping his school afloat is threatened, he vows to save it. But he does not understand the state’s insistence on a gender-neutral bathroom, and he finds himself standing up for something that begins to feel wrong. When he becomes embroiled in a public debate, he finds his supporters to be those people he does not admire, and he begins to question his views and those of his family. Finally discussing Alex with his mother, Jack says, “What if a boy doesn’t want to do boy things? Or doesn’t always feel like a boy? Or even…doesn’t feel like a boy or a girl?” (194)
Libby hears about Vincent and mails him one of her notes. Vincent meets T on the streets when T helps Vincent who then brings food to T and Peko. As Vincent learns more about them , he receives advice on how to stand up to bullies (”I don’t have to be scared. I don’t have to feel bad. I don’t have to feel like I am less than them.”).
And when Vincent sees Jack on the news, he “reaches out from across the country” by mail to tell him about T and advises that there may be kids in Jack’s school who are transgender “but don’t say.” When Vincent offers his support, Jack realizes, as do all four, I am simultaneously understanding two things… That I have been alone. And that I don’t have to be. (171)
This is a story about the importance of communication and validation as the four young adolescents connect with each other but also with their own family members, changing perspectives and values. It is a compelling, simply-told story of identity and the power of being oneself. Many readers will recognize themselves in these characters and their families and communities, and other readers will learn about those they may someday meet or might already know, hiding in plain sight in their classrooms or neighborhoods. This is a wonderful, much-needed novel about empathy, support, and standing up for ourselves and others. ------------
Free Lunch by Rex Ogle
On the first day of middle school Rex Ogle arrives at school with a black eye and his name in the Free Lunch Program registry. This was supposed to be a great year. “I guess it won’t be after all.” (25)
When his friends all join the football team, Rex has no one to sit with at lunch. “Having a place to sit in middle school is important. ‘Cause it means you have friends. Popular kids sit at one table. Football players sit nearby. Cheerleaders too. Band kids are in one area, school newspaper and yearbook kids at another. Religious kids have a table. So do the kids who play Dungeons & Dragons. The whole cafeteria is that way. Everyone has their place. Everyone except me.” (56)
As Rex lives through a year of avoiding being hit by his mentally-unstable mother and her abusive boyfriend; taking care of his little brother; sleeping in a room with only a sleeping bag; having his one possession—his Sony boombox, a present from his real dad—pawned; surviving a teacher who treats him as “less than;” and moving to government-subsidized housing in view of the school, he still feels the responsibility to help his mother. When his friend Liam steals some candy at the grocery “because [he] can,” the cashier asks to see Rex’s pockets, and Rex learns the double standard for the wealthy and the poor. “I don’t get why folks act like being poor is a disease, like it’s wrong or something.” (53)
On the positive side, Rex makes a new friend at school, Ethan, a boy who may have seems a “total weirdo” at first but turns out to be a good person and true friend and have his own family problems, and Rex’s teacher learns to admit and face her own prejudices. Rex comes to the realization that “Mom didn’t sign me up for the Free Lunch Program to punish me. She did it so I could have food….Things are not as black and white as I thought. Maybe some things are gray, somewhere in between.” (188)
Rex’s mother finally obtains a job, and he even receives a present for Christmas. “I may not have a million presents, but I have one. And one is better than none.” (188) As Ethan tells him, “…no one has a perfect life. There is no such thing as ‘perfect.’ It’s just an idea.” (195) . However, some lives are indeed less perfect. About 15 million children in the United States – 21% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold. Forty-three percent of children live in families who earn less than necessary to cover basic expenses (NCCP). And Rex Ogle, author, was one of them—and Free Lunch is his personal story. ------------
It Doesn’t Take a Genius by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
“I don’t even like debate, to be honest. But I’m good at it, and I learned early on that’s what matters. People love a winner. When you win, everyone sees you. And if people don’t see you, maybe you’re not really there.” (8)
Thirteen-year-old Emmett Charles is a winner, or at least at his school where his vocabulary, three debate trophies, science fair award, and Spelling Bee record have him feeling he might even be a genius.
And when his social skills and small size fail him, his older brother Luke is always there to bail him out , especially with Mac, his bully. “Luke has come out of nowhere. Like a superhero. He’s even taller than Mac, wears his shirts a little small so girls can peep his muscles, and his fade is tight and gleaming.” (6-7) “Sometimes it feels like I’m in a river, and the current’s real strong. And I have a choice between clinging to a rock and getting left behind, or letting myself get swept up in it and carried along without any control. Luke’s my rock.” (138)
But when his brother Luke gets a scholarship to a private art school in Maine for his last year of high school, summer is all Emmett, or E as he wants to be called, will have for Luke to turn him back into a winner after he passed on competing in this year’s debate championship. “We’re a team. Batman and Robin.” (29)
But when he discovers that Luke has gotten a job as a junior counselor at Camp DuBois, a historic Black summer camp in New York, and Emmett schemes to get himself a scholarship to attend as a camper. When he arrives he discovers that
His brother will be too busy to spend any time with him
The camp is filled with “geniuses” and nerds—and new friends who have his back
He will be discovering more of his culture and history through classes like “Black to the Future” and the camp focuses on community, not individual success. He finally realizes that “DuBois is preparing me for something more than bubble tests, more than I’d ever thought it would.” (190)
Even though he is a great dancer, he is an even better choreographer
Although he sees himself as a winner, without effort and spreading himself too thin, he can lose, more than he thought
He will have to take swimming lessons (with the Littles) and pass a swimming test
“What my friends, and my family for that matter, don’t seem to understand is that I don’t swim. I guess they get the fact that I can’t. But they keep thinking that I will, one day. That I even want to. And they’re WRONG. Dad was supposed to teach me, and he’s not here.” (19) Emmett’s father died when he was 5, and Like and his mother don’t discuss his father with him which saddens him. In fact, seeing other kids with their dads sadden him.
And most important he discovers, as Natasha says, “It doesn’t take a genius to be a friend.” (291)
E’s story is filled with great characters: the socially-awkward Charles who can “do you” the best I have seen; Charles’ love interest and budding playwright Michelle, Emmett’s crush Natasha who does win at everything but is just as happy when the camp director decides there will be no final competitions; the alleged-bully Derek who is able to spend more time with Luke than Emmett does, but, as is often the case, is more complex than presumed; and the assortment of other campers, counselors, and group leaders. Readers will learn not only a lot of Black history but the importance of studying one’s cultural roots.
There will be adolescents in the classroom and community who need to read this book. I know that I learned quite a lot which led me to want to know more‑about Black culture and my culture and the cultures of others. ------------
Junk Boy by Tony Abbott (verse novel) Junk Boy introduces readers to two teen outliers, two dysfunctional families, two stories which become intertwined.
there is no putting a tree back up after it’s broken and fallen in a storm
maybe with us with people it’s different (336)
Bobby Lang, nicknamed Junk by the bullies at school because he lives in a place that has become a junkyard, spends his time flying under the radar, eyes down, not speaking. His father is drunk, abusive, unemployed, and listens to sad country songs; his mother left when he was a baby is, according to his father, is dead. Bobby has no self-confidence and little self-worth but then he meets Rachel, a talented artist who sees something else in him.
her eyes could somehow see a me that is more me than I am
that is so weirdly more so better than actual me (273-4)
But Rachel has her own family problems. Her father has just moved out and her physically-abusive mother wants the local priest to “reformat” Rachel who is gay.
As Rachel moves in and out of Bobby’s life, her need helps him figure out what was I going to say do be? (274)
And what he is, or becomes, is a rescuer and protector, a savior. As Father Percy tells him, “It’s what she found in you…” (352)
Reading Tony Abbott’s first verse novel, I felt like I was watching a movie unfold as I followed the protagonist on his Hero’s Journey. ------------
Lily’s Promise by Kathryn Erskine
Sixth grader Lily, painfully shy, is attending public school for the first time. She had always been homeschooled by her father, and, before he died, he encouraged her talk to other kids “Girls make excellent friends” and left her a Strive for Five challenge: “to speak up, make herself heard, step out of her ‘comfort zone’ at least five times… and pretty soon, it [will] become second nature.’ (18-19)
On the first day Lily, overwhelmed at the noise and rudeness of the students, (1) makes her first friend, Hobart (not a girl) and (2) observes many instances of bullying, some against Hobart (and even the new teacher) and most generated from Ryan and his followers. During the year as she forms a group of new friends from those students many others would think different, she finds her courage and voice to become an upstander, rather than a bystander, earning her the five charms left by her father. Lily and her new friends influence both young adolescents and adults, such as Hobart’s father, alike.
One unique and very compelling element are the chapters narrated by Libro (the book) is it reflects on the characters and events of the preceding chapter and on the author (Imaginer) herself.
[Spoiler alert] While many readers may be dismayed by the open ending, it provides an opportunity for deep discussions and will generate important conversations, one reason I would encourage this book for collaborative reading in literature circles or as a whole-class selection even though still enjoyable as independent reading. In a class setting, readers could write their own endings, possibly putting themselves in the place of Lily. ------------
Middle School’s a Drag; You Better Werk by Greg Howard
“Maybe Pap isn’t the person I’ve been trying to impress all this time. Maybe it was me. Maybe what I really need is to be proud of myself.” (236)
A 13-year-old drag queen; a rising comic learning the difference between insults and jokes; a three-legged blind rescue dog; a wheelchair-bound Super Hero impersonator; a dream interpreter; two best friends that offer support no matter what—and, right in the middle, their Talent Agent, rising entrepreneur Michael Pruitt of Anything Talent and Pizzazz (not Pizza) Agency.
Seventh grader Mikey (as he is called when he is out of the office) has been planning businesses, most of which have failed, to impress his beloved Pap, the original family entrepreneur who is now in a nursing home with diabetes and heart problems. His Board consists of his very supportive mother and father and his less-supportive, evil, client-stealing younger sister, Lyla. When Mickey meets Coco Caliente, Mistress of Madness and Mayhem (boy name Julian Vasquez) at school, he has found his new business.
Mikey thinks he might be—no, he knows that he is—gay, but he has only come out to his parents (“They were wicked cool about it right from the beginning.” (30)) and his two best friends although, for some unfathomable reason, the school bullies call him Gay Mikey. However, he worries that he is not good at being gay, has no gaydar, and is sure that he is not ready to like-like someone. Then he meets Julian’s friend, new student Colton Sanford whose smile makes his stomach melt. Julian, who has become a friend, tells him, “Michael, there’s no right or wrong way to be gay.” (95)
Michael spends the next weeks Googling performance terms, trying to book paying gigs for his clients, and preparing them for the school talent show where he can earn a commission if a client wins the $100 prize. And navigating the school bullies.
As Mikey, he discovers the secret of head bully Tommy Jenrette which ends up improving their relationship, and he supports Julian’s whose mother and abuela are encouraging but his father absolutely forbids him to dress up. “I just wish my dad could be proud of me,” Julian says, his shoulders sagging. “Like he used to be—before Coco Caliente.” ((94)
Mikey also encourages and defends Colton who tells him that he moved in with his grandmother because his mother is in rehab. “I guess you just never know what’s going on with someone, even if they seem okay and wear a mask that’s nice to look at.” (231) Mickey is good at letting his friends appreciate that they matter. “I think about my business ventures and how they make me feel important. And like I matter. And wanting to matter doesn’t seem like too much to ask.” (94)
The characters, especially Mickey/Michael, grabbed me on page 1. “I think CEOs of big-time companies like mine shouldn’t be required to attend middle school. It seriously gets in the way of doing important business stuff.” Middle School’s a Drag is hilarious, the writing voice jumping right off the pages. I didn’t put it down, and neither will readers. This is a book for reluctant readers, proficient readers, and the many adolescents who need to know that they matter. ------------
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
“moxie”- force of character, determination, nerve.
Testosterone, football, and the football players run East Rockport High School in a small Texas town. All monies are funneled to the football team, and “Make me a sandwich” is the boys’ code for telling girls to stay in their place (even during classes). While girls are subject to humiliating dress code checks, football players get away with T-shirts displaying crude sexist rhetoric. Good girl, don’t-rock-the-boat Vivian, the daughter of a feminist, at least in her own high school days, has had enough and anonymously begins creating and posting vines from a group called Moxie, encouraging the high school girls to take action.
As some girls eagerly join the movement—bake and craft sales for the girls’ soccer team, protests of the Dress Code crackdowns, and labeling the lockers of boys who subject them to a Bump 'n' Grab “game," others are concerned about the ramifications of joining, and it is not until a rape attempt by the star football player, son of the principal—is disregarded that most of the high school girls—and a few boys—cross popularity and racial barriers and find their Moxie. “It occurs to me that this is what it means to be a feminist. Not a humanist or an equalist or whatever. But a feminist. It’s not a bad word. After today it might be my favorite word. Because really all it is is girls supporting each other and wanting to be treated like human beings in a world that’s always finding ways to tell them they’re not.” (p.269). ------------
October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman (verse novel)
October 12, 1998
Somebody entered this world with a cry; Somebody left without saying goodbye. (35)
On the night of October 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay 21-year-old college student was lured from a Wyoming bar by two young homophobic men, brutally beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. October Mourning is Lesléa Newman’s tribute in the form of a collection of sixty-eight poems about Matthew Shepard and his murder.
Newman recreates the events of the night, the following days, and the court case and reimagines thoughts and conversations through a variety of perspectives: those of Matthew Shepard himself, the people of the town—the bartender, a doctor, the patrol officers, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney and their girlfriends—as well as inanimate objects, notably beginning and ending with the fence to which Shepard was tied. Many of the poems are introduced with a quote from a person involved in the events.
A range of emotions is shared through a variety of poetic styles: free verse, haiku, pantoum, concrete, rhymed, list, alphabet, villanelle, acrostic, and poems modeled after the poetry of other poets.
The poetry of October Mourning serves to let the reader bear witness to Matthew Shepard and his death but also to the power of poetry to express loss and grief and as a response to injustice. Heartbreaking and moving, but emotional and a call to action, this is a story that should be shared with all adolescents.
"Only if each of us imagines that what happened to Matthew Shepard could happen to any one of us will we be motivated to do something. And something must be done." (Imagine, 90)
From “Then and Now”
Then I was a son Now I am a symbol
Then a was a person. Now I am a memory.
Then I was a student. Now I am a lesson. (40) ------------
Operation Do-Over by Gordon Korman I’ve already seen that everything in my life doesn’t have to go exactly the way it went the first time around. (123)
Who has never wished for a “Do Over”? Sometimes it is something little, like a golf swing or studying for that test, but sometimes it is a major event, something that has affected our life.
Mason and Ty were best friends from age three or even before that, before they even knew what “friends” were. They were actually even closer than best friends, finishing each other’s sentences and “We can look at each other and crack up laughing at a joke neither of us has to say out loud.” (8-9) Both considered nerds, bullied by Dominic and Miggy, interested in school—especially science—and obsessed with time travel. “TY and I may not be cool, but we’ve got each other’s backs one thousand percent. Plus, we’re smart, so it’s hard to imagine that there’s anything middle school could throw at us that we can’t handle.” (11) But in seventh grade, it did—a new student, Ava Petrakis.
Ava turns out to be the nicest, prettiest, smartest girl, and she is popular with everyone, but she chooses to spend time with Mason and Ty. Realizing they both have a crush on Ava, they make a pact not to pursue their interest. But when Mason and Ava kiss at the Harvest Festival, the friendship ends.
Five years later, Mason and Ty are still not friends and an incident occurs which has far-reaching repercussions. After a car accident Mason ends up going back in time to his 12-year-old self with a chance at a Do-Over. Having studied time travel for years, Mason knows that he has to be careful how his actions affect the future, but he just can’t resist making some changes. Can he save his parents’ marriage; can he train his beloved dog not to run into the path of a Roto-Rooter truck; can he actually earn the respect of the class bullies; and, most important, can he avoid Ava and keep his friendship with Ty?
Well-written with humor and pathos, featuring engaging characters (male and female) and a protagonist-narrator whom readers will champion from the beginning through his “two futures,” this novel has everything: a plot with twists and turns, bullies, nerds, football players, (and those who perform dual roles), time travel, crushes, and a dog. Spanning Mason’s 7th grade and 12th grade lives, Gordon Korman writes this one for readers of all ages. ------------
Play Like a Girl by Misty Wilson (graphic memoir)
“Even though friends were kind of confusing, at least football ALWAYS made sense.” (135)
Misty, a super-competitive athletic, was always challenging the boys in feats of strength and endurance. But, in the summer before seventh grade, she was surprised, when deciding to play for the town’s football league, that even her friends on the team did not support her decision. When Cole said, “‘Football really isn’t a sport for girls’…not a single one of them was sticking up for me.” (7)
Undeterred, Misty joins the team and talks her best friend Bree into joining also. But Bree quits and starts hanging around with the popular Mean Girl Ava, and when Misty tries to change to be more “girly” like the two (a hilarious try at makeup), they still make fun of her, and Misty realizes, with Bree gone, she has no friends.
She throws herself into football and, as she wins over many of her male team members, she is befriended by two of the cheerleaders who appear to accept her, and like her, just as she is. “Middle school was complicated. But I knew one thing for sure: I was done trying to be someone else.” (258)
Misty Wilson’s graphic memoir (illustrated by husband David Wilson) shares her story of football, family, middle-grade friends and frenenemies—and empowerment and identity. I also learned a lot about football, the positions and the plays—especially from the illustrations—that I wish I had known when watching games as a teen and a mother of a player. ------------
Rima’s Rebellion: Courage in a Time of Tyranny by Margarita Engle (verse novel)
I dream of being legitimate
My father would love me, society could accept me, strangers might even admire my short, simple first name if it were followed by two surnames instead of one. (ARC 53)
Twelve-year-old Rima Marin is a “natural child,” the illegitimate child of a father who will not acknowledge her.
I am a living, breathing secret.
Natural children aren’t supposed to exist. Our names don’t appear on family trees, our framed photos never rest affectionately beside a father’s armchair, and when priests write about us in official documents, they follow the single surname of a mother with the letters SOA, meaning sin otro apellido, so that anyone reading will understand clearly that without two last names we have no legal right to money for school uniforms, books, papers, pencils, shelter, or food. (ARC,11)
Rima, her Mama, and her abuela live in poverty, squatting in a small building owned by her wealthy father. Her mother is a lacemaker and her abulela—a nurse during the wars for independence from Spain—works as a farrier and founded La Mambisa Voting Club whose members are fighting for voting rights, equality for “natural children,” and the end of the Adultery Law which permits men to kill unfaithful wives and daughters along with their lovers.
Taking place from 1923 to 1936, Rima also joins La Mambisas; becomes friends with her acknowledged, wealthy half-sister, keeping her safe when she defies their father, refusing arranged marriage and becomes pregnant by her boyfriend; falls in love; and becomes trained as a typesetter, printing revolutionary books and posters for suffrage.
Over the thirteen years she grows from a girl who cowers from bullies who call her “bastarda,” finding confidence only in riding Ala, her buttermilk mare, to an adolescent, living in the city and fighting dictatorship with words—hers and others:
absorb[ing] the strength of female hopes, wondering if this is how it will be someday when women can finally vote.” (ARC, 43)
to a young married woman and mother voting in her first election:
Voting rights are our only Pathway to freedom from fear. (ARC, 167) ------------
Say It Out Loud by Allison Varnes
“So you left the only real friend you had to avoid getting picked on.” (140)
After Tristan and Josh cause problems on the school bus, teasing everyone and putting gum in Ben’s hair, sixth-grader Charlotte Andrews’ best friend Maddie goes to the principal. The boys retaliate by focusing their bullying on her. Afraid of being bullied herself, Charlotte walks past their seat and abandons Maddie. When it becomes clear that Maddie no longer considers her a friend, she feels guilty but doesn’t have the courage to fix things. Charlotte continues to stand wordlessly by as the bullying becomes worse.
Charlotte has always been nervous about speaking out loud because of her stutter. “I hate the moment when someone realizes I’m different. It changes the way they look at me.” (11) Maddie was the one person, besides her parents, who ignored her stutter.
Since she cannot think of any way to make Maddie feel better, Charlotte starts writing encouraging notes to other students, first to Ben and then to random students. “…I don’t sign them with my real name. No one is going to care where they came from. It’s the words that matter.” (127) The note writing campaign spreads. “Did I cause this? Is that even possible? I’ve left so many notes all over the school. Could it be that my words inspired other kids to leave notes of their own?” (230)
Meanwhile her mother makes Charlotte take the musical drama class and, even though she has a beautiful voice, she flubs her audition for her favorite musical The Wizard of Oz and is cast in two minor roles. But she has a great attitude: “I still wish I had a role where I could at least get a little glammed up, but watching the other kids get into their costumes reminds me that every role is important. And I’m going to be the best apple tree and horse’s butt there ever was.” (174-5)
And even when the snobbish Aubrey, who is cast in the role she wanted, is mean to her, Charlotte leaves her a supportive note. “It’s so hard to give her a compliment when she was horrible about me trying out for Glinda. But this is about making her feel better, not my hurt feelings. Even if it is hard to say, I know I still have to be kind.” (105)
When the drama program is threatened, Charlotte using her new note-writing strategy to organize a letter writing campaign by The Wizard Of Oz cast and crew, finding her voice.
And she finds the courage to speak out and right her wrong, moving from a bystander to an upstander. “If I’d just had the courage to stand by my friend in the first place, things would be so different. I wasted too much time being afraid.” (238)
This is a novel that needs to be in every classroom, school, and community library for grades 5-8. It can be effectively grouped with other books about bullying, a critical topic for middle school conversations. It is imperative that students, especially middle grade students, read novels about bullying to open conversations about this important topic and to discuss bullies, victims, bystanders, and upstanders, and the ongoing shifts among these roles. ------------
Shine! by J.J. and Chris Grabenstein
“How do we use the stars when we wish to journey safely into the vast unknown? It’s simple, really…. We just need to find one star…. The one that’s always constant and true.” (174)
Shine! really does shine. This is a valuable story about how adolescents can shine just by being their best selves. It is a story of the importance of kindness and caring for others.
Seventh grader Piper Milly lives with her father, a music teacher (and hopeful Broadway show composer), her mother having died when she was three years old. In the middle of the school year, her father is offered a position at a prestigious private school for the offspring of the very wealthy. Along with the position comes free tuition for Piper who knows she will not fit in. Her mother had also been a scholarship student at Chumley Prep but was an extremely talented cellist, her name is on a plaque at the school. Piper feels she has no special abilities—certainly no musical talent, and with her frayed shirt collars and inexpensive shoes, she won’t fit in with girls who buy their accessories at the ritzy Winterset Collection.
Shunned from the beginning by Ansleigh Braden-Hammerschmidt, Mean Girl extraordinaire, and her band of followers which include most of their grade, Piper finds three good friends, and together they become the Hibbleflitts: a math whiz, a magician, a comedian, and Piper, an astronomy “geek.” When their English teacher tasks the class with journaling about who they want to be, not in the future but now, and the students compete for the new Excelsior award, Piper feels she does not excel in anything, excelling being the only defined criteria for the award, and she is not sure who she wants herself to be—Does she want to super-talented like her mother, a singer like Brooke, a limit-pusher, the award winner?
As she navigates the year, facing multiple challenges, helping strangers and friends alike, and trying to figure out where and how she might excel and who she wants to be, Piper finds she can shine by being the person she already is, maybe finding that star or maybe being that star for others. ------------
Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger
“After September eleventh, I never felt more un-American in my whole life, yet at the same time, I felt the most American I’ve ever felt too. I never knew it, but this has been a recurring theme throughout my life and it seemed to get shoved into my face after the attacks on the World Trade Center.” (150-151)
Samar Ahluwahlia is an Indian-American teen living in Linton, NJ, with her mother who turned her back on her family and religion. When the events of September 11th occurred, shaking Sam as well as her classmates and community, she didn’t realize that those events would affect her personally. Until her Uncle Sandeep rang their doorbell.
“Before Uncle Sandeep walked back into my life, I’d never cared that I was a Sikh. It really didn’t have much impact on my life,…. But that was before 9/11. The Saturday morning that Uncle Sandeep rang our doorbell had one of those endless, frozen blue skies hanging above it; the same kind of frozen blue sky that, just four days earlier, had born silent witness to a burning Pentagon and two crumbling mighty towers in New York City. And the cause of all those lost lives was linked to another bearded, turbaned man halfway around the world. And my regular, sort of popular, happily assimilated Indian-American butt got rammed real hard into the cold seat of reality.” (10)
After becoming re-acquainted with her personable, loveable and loving, optimistic uncle, visiting his gurdwara (temple), and watching the harassment and hate aimed against him even though he is Indian, American, and Sikh, rather than the Middle Eastern and Muslim, Sammy decides she wants to learn more about Sikhism and meet her family, hoping to have what her best friend Molly has with her large Irish family. “This discovering more about myself stuff is addictive. It’s like starting a book that you just can’t out down, only it’s better because the whole book is about you.” (110)
After being termed a “coconut” by an Indian girl at school and learning about the WWII Japanese internment camps, Sam begins researching intolerance, joins a Sikh teen chat group, and convinces her mother to take her to visit her grandparents where she is exposed to the traditional “values” that caused her mother to rebel.
However, when Molly includes their childhood enemy Bobbi Lewis in their friendship and Sam finally acknowledges that the supportive Bobbi has changed or maybe isn’t whom she thought, Sam realizes, “If we give them a chance, people could surprise us. Maybe if we didn’t make up our minds right away, based on a few familiar clues, we’d leave room for people to show us a bunch of little, important layers that we never would have expected to see.” (149)
Through the repercussions of 9/1l, her newly-expanded family and group of friends, her research into history and the Sikh religion, and experiencing the narrow-mindedness of her boyfriend, some of the kids at school, and even her grandparents, Sam realizes the dichotomy of being a coconut. “I thought of Balvir’s definition of a coconut: brown on the outside, white on the inside, mixed-up, confused. And then Uncle Sandeep’s: The coconut is also a symbol of resilience, Samar. Even in conditions where there’s very little nourishment and even less nurturance, it flourishes, growing taller than most of the plants around it.” (247) ------------
Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai
“The driver hit the gas and the tires squealed as the truck made a sharp turn and then accelerated right though a bombed-out warehouse onto a parallel alley. Fadi looked from the edge of the truck’s railing in disbelief. His six-year-old sister had been lost because of him.” (25)
Fadi’s father, a native Afghan, received his doctorate in the United States and returned to Afghanistan with his family five years before to help the Taliban rid the country of drugs and help the farmers grow crops. But as the Taliban became more and more restrictive and power-hungry and things changed, Habib, his wife Zafoona, Noor, Fadi, and little Mariam (born in the U.S.) need to flee the country. During their nighttime escape, chased by soldiers, Fadi loses his grip on Mariam as they are pulled into the truck, and she is lost.
Eventually making it to America, the family joins relatives in Fremont, California. “Fremont has the largest population of Afghans in the United States” (56), and Habib takes measures to try to find and rescue Mariam. Starting sixth grade in his new school, Fadi is continuously plagued with guilt over Mariam’s loss and is tormented and beaten up by the two sixth-grade bullies. However, though Anh, a new friend, he joins the photography club and becomes obsessed with a contest that could win him a ticket to India for a photo shoot but also take him in proximity to Pakistan where he can look for Mariam himself.
Then the events of September 11, 2001, occur and “By the end of the day, Fadi knew that the world as he knew it would never be the same again.” (137). Harassment escalates both at school and in the community. “[Mr. Singh] was attacked because the men thought he was a Muslim since he wore a turban and beard. They blamed him for what happened on September eleventh.” (165)
When the Afghan students have had enough with the school bullies, they band together and confront the two boys, but having them cornered, decide, “We can’t beat them up. That would make us as bad as they are…. Beating them up won’t solve anything.” (232) Meanwhile, while looking for a photograph that will capture “all the key elements” of a winning photograph and additionally portray his community, Fadi shoots the picture which, in an unusual way, leads to finding Mariam.
In Shooting Kabul, readers meet one family of refugees living in a community of Afghans of different ethnic groups as well as immigrants from other countries. The story also takes readers through some of the background of the Taliban in Afghanistan, relevant at this time. ------------
Singing with Elephants Singing with Elephants by Margarite Engle (verse novel)
Poetry is a dance of words on the page. (1)
Poetry is like a planet… Each word spins orbits twirls and radiates reflected starlight. (10) “Poetry,” she said, “can be whatever you want it to be.” (25) And poetry is what connects a lonely girl with a new neighbor who turns out to be Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American (and only Latin American woman) winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature.
Poetry also helps this young girl to find her words and her courage to face a grave injustice. Oriol is an 11-year-old Cuban-born child whose veterinarian parents moved to Santa Barbara where the girls at school make fun of me for being small brownish chubby with curly black hair barely tamed by a long braid… …call me zoo beast …the boys call me ugly stupid tongue-tied because my accent gets stronger when I’m nervous, like when the teacher forces me to read out loud (7-8)
Oriol’s friends are her animals and the animals she helps with in their clinic and on the neighboring wildlife zoo ranch. She learns veterinary terminology from her parents and poetry terms from her new friend.
When the elephant on the zoo ranch owned by a famous actor gives birth to twins and one is taken from her family by the actor and held captive, Oriol, with the help of her mentor, her family, and her new friends, fight to reunite the baby with her mother and twin. Readers learn Spanish phrases and quite a lot about poetry, animal rights, Gabriela Mistral, xenophobia, and courage. courage is a dance of words on paper as graceful as an elephant the size of love (99) ------------
Starfish by Lisa Fipps (verse novel)
As soon as I slip into the pool, Am weightless. Limitless. For just a while. (1)
Eliana Elizabeth Montgomery-Hofstein, known as Ellie or El, was re-named Splash by her older sister at her fifth birthday party when she joyfully cannonballed into the pool, her chubbiness causing a great splash. Since that day Ellie has been bullied by her classmates, her older brother, and, sadly, her mother who puts her on endless diets, posts fat-shaming articles on the refrigerator, decides what Ellie eats, plans to force her to have bariatric surgery at age 11, and referred to her once as “a big ol’ fat thing.”
Her only allies are her father, her best friend Viv and Viv’s mother, and the school librarian. She survives with her Fat Girl Rules—rules that help her to not get noticed, and with poetry and daily swimming. As I float, I spread out my arms And my legs. I’m a starfish, Taking up all the room I want. (41)
Even though her weight does not bother her, the constant bullying from family members, classmates, acquaintances, and strangers does. Ellie has trouble standing up for herself. But every time I try to stand up for myself, the words get stuck in my throat like a giant glob of peanut butter.
Besides, if they even listened, They’d just snap back, “If you don’t like being teased, Lose weight.” (4)
When Viv moves away, her place is taken by a new neighbor who becomes a second best friend and who shows her what a supportive family looks like. As a Mexican-American living in Texas, Catalina faces her own taunts and stereotype assumptions. Stereotypes stink. They give people an excuse to Hate people who are different Instead of taking the time To get to know them. (76)
At school there are the Mean Girls—Marissa and Kortnee —with lots of followers to do their bidding, like loosening the bolts on Ellie's desk.
Then Ellie gets to know Enemy Number 3, a male classmate who bullies her constantly, and finds that, living in poverty, he has challenges of his own and is probably fighting his own bullies. But I just don’t understand how Someone who’s bullied And knows how horrible it feels inside Turns around and bullies others. That’s pure garbage.” (150)
Ellie’s father takes her to talk to Dr. Wood, a therapist, and after her initial rejection (“Dr. Woodn’t-You-Like-to-Know) and many sessions, Ellie learns how to face her bullies, even her mother, and to discover feelings of self-worth and the importance of talk. No matter what you weigh, You deserve for people to treat you Like a human being with feelings. (179)
Ellie is an appealing character, witty and stronger than she knows and a true friend. I cried for her, I cringed for her, I hoped for her, and I cheered for her.
This is not as much a book about bullying but standing up to bullies and the value of not merely tolerance or acceptance, but respect. It is a book that belongs in every library to be read by those who need it—the bullied and the bullies and the bystanders—for empathy, self-worth, and respect.
P.S. Ellie includes a tribute to librarians (and any adult who notices and reaches out): It’s unknown how many students’ lives Librarians have saved By welcoming loners at lunch. (31) ------------
Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber
Middle school, especially seventh grade, is challenging: first crushes, jealousy, mean girls, dances, invitations or no invitations, and puberty. Bodies are changing, and young adolescents are beginning to fit in their bodies differently. It is a stage where most preteens believe that their parents are knowledgeable about things. But what if your parents aren’t? What if parents can afford to feed you, but forget to feed you?
Sarah loves playing basketball and being on a team with her two BFFs. In fact, Sarah is one of the best players on the team—until her body starts changing and she is slower and now is worried she will be kicked off the team. Sarah loses her confidence and becomes obsessed with only eating what she interprets from health class and her mother is “good” food. Bananas have too much sugar and starch. Even one snack is too much. But as Sarah and her crush Benny enter a cooking contest together, and she finds that she likes to cook and that her one best friend who also likes Benny now no longer wants to be friends. Suddenly Sarah feels she is taking up too much space since many of the girls are mean to her and her mother can’t be bothered to shop and cook for her.
Sarah begins controlling her food in order to control her life. “For lunch I have an apple and half a turkey sandwich again which gives me this feeling I can do anything. I’m in charge of what happens to me. It’s weird how eating less makes me feel so much stronger.” (70) Soon it takes over her life. “’…I’m hungry and tired of counting and worrying but I don’t know how to stop.” (117)
After Sarah collapses on the court, her coach and the school counselor become involved and Sarah finds out why her mother rarely food shops or cooks and is hiding candy all over the house. And it is an answer that has nothing to do with her love of Sarah.
Eating disorders and positive self-image are critical topics for young adolescents, and this newest MG novel by Alyson Gerber, an #ownvoices author (and reviewed by an ED survivor) will generate small group conversations that may be sensitive but need to be held.
Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys exhibit unhealthy weight control behaviors. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), eating disorders are more common among females than males with as many as 10 million girls and women afflicted. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia primarily affect people in their teens and twenties, making the majority of adolescent athletes vulnerable. 62.3% of teenage girls and 28.8% of teenage boys report trying to lose weight. 58.6% of girls and 28.2% of boys are actively dieting; even among clearly non-overweight girls, over one-third report dieting. Talking Up Space belongs in every middle school library to be read in ELA or health classes or with a counseling group, independently or in book clubs with other ED novels or books about adolescent challenges and resilience ------------
The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf
A new student joins Alexa’s class, but he doesn’t talk to anyone, he disappears during every recess, and he has a woman who helps him with his work. And even though she has what some might term a challenging life herself—her father died when she was younger, her mum works two jobs to make ends meet and isn’t at home very much, and they have to be really careful about spending money, Alexa never sounds like she is complaining.
Alexa and her three best friends, Josie, Tom, and Michael, a very diverse group of 9-year-olds, make it their mission to become friends with Ahmet. They give him gifts and then invite him to play soccer, where he excels, and they try to keep him safe from Bernard the Bully and his racist remarks and threats, which, it turns out, Ahmet can handle.
When they learn that Ahmet is a refugee from Syria, escaping on foot and in a lifeboat from bad people and bombs, the four friends are concerned. But when Alexa learns that his little sister died on the crossing and Ahmet does not know where his parents are and then learns from the news that the border is closing to refugees the next week, she puts a plan, the Greatest Idea in the World, in motion. She will ask the Queen to find Ahmet’s parents and keep the border open for them. When that plan seems to fail, the friends move on to the Emergency Plan.
I read this darling, wonderful novel that deals with important issues—diversity, bullying, stereotyping, and refugee children—in one day because I didn’t want to stop reading. I fell in love with the narrator right away, a British 9-year-old upstander. It is amazing that a novel on such a complicated subject can be handled so well and so thoroughly in a book for readers, age 8-13. This book indeed will generate important conversations—and maybe some research and news article reading. ------------
The Life I’m In by Sharon Flake
Everyone has a back story. Charlise Jones, the bully in The Skin I’m In, has a back story, a story that shows that she was not always a bully; she was not always unhappy. When her parents died and Char was left to be raised by Juju, her older sister, her life changed. She bullied others, especially Maleeka Madison, and after repeating grade seven multiple times, dropped out of school.
When The Life I’m In begins, we see Charlese’s life as it now is. Char has been kicked out by her sister and put on a bus to go to live with her grandparents. But she has decided that is not where she will go, and readers bear witness to the all-too-common and inevitable fate of a runaway.
Even Charlese, brighter than she gives herself credit, knows what is happening to April, a fellow traveler, who brags about her new job on a cruise ship that she paid for in advance. “‘Three hundred and fifty dollars,’ she says. ‘For what?’ “The job.’ “You gotta pay for a job? I thought they paid you.’ ‘The good ones cost.’ She still owes ‘em money, she says. ‘I’m supposed to pay the rest when they pick me up.’(65)
When April meets up with Anthony, the man who offers to pay the remainder for this job, she leaves Char with her baby girl and, with the innate goodness that we learn is a characteristic of her, Chalese tries to take care of and provide for Cricket who she now thinks of as her child.
Finally, desperate for money and lured by the smooth talking and attentions of Anthony who gives her plenty of money to pay her rent and buy necessities for Cricket, she is slowly lured into a world of forced prostitution and abuse, dependent on her “Daddy.” Her new family are her fellow victims: Gen, Rosalie, Kianna, Katrina. “We like sisters. Better than sisters ‘cause they would cut or kill somebody for me.” Readers observe with horror the brainwashing and dependency that typically occurs in relationships between the victims and their pimps. “But he ain’t beat me lately. Him and Carolina feed us and give us clothes—so they not all the way bad.… There are worse houses to be in, worse daddies to have. I know that for sure now. So I close my eyes and thank God I got it as good as I do.” (225)
A powerful read with a strong female character who rises from the pages. I wanted to shout at Char and hug her and save her. Those who have read The Skin I’m In (and I cannot wait to re-read) will see the return of Maleeka and Miss Saunders as they help Maleeka through the life she’s in. This is a book on a crucial topic that needs to be in all middle school libraries.
Human trafficking is a real and growing problem all over the United States.…Traffickers target teens who are having trouble at home. Runaway youth are at an increased risk for predators because they have few resources. It is common for teens who have run away to trade sex for basic survival needs like food, clothes, or a place to stay. (McCain Institute) In 2018, over half (51.6%) of the criminal human trafficking cases active in the US were sex trafficking cases involving only children. (The Human Trafficking Institute) The average age a teen enters the sex trade in the US is 12 to 14 years old. (Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation) ------------
The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron (verse novel)
A golem is a creature formed out of a lifeless substance such as dust or earth that is brought to life by ritual incantations and sequences of Hebrew letters. The golem, brought into being by a human creator, becomes a helper, a companion, or a rescuer of an imperiled Jewish community. --------- Stan Lee once said, “If you don’t care about the characters, you can’t care about the story.” And I do look for characters I care about; in fact; sometimes I just want to take care of them. Even though I fell in love with them, there is no need in Chris Baron’s new verse novel; the two main characters, Etan and Malia, take care of each other quite well.
Etan is part of a close community of emigrés from Prague, the Philippines, China, and other countries who, with his grandfather, sailed on the Calypso and entered America through the Angel Island Immigration Center in 1940. Etan needs the support of his community when his mother goes to a mental hospital and he loses the ability speak—except sometimes. In addition, his father appears to have lost his Jewish faith, and the community Sabbat dinners end. Etan finds comfort in his religious grandfather and his jewelry shop which appear to be the heart of the community.
Etan doesn’t play with the other boys at school since his mother left, and, when on a delivery errand, he meets Malia who has been homeschooled since she was bullied and called “the creature.” Malia’s severe eczema keeps her in the house or covered up from the sun with her Blankie. However, as he becomes friends with her, Etan believes that his grandfather’s ancient muds will cure Malia’s condition or bring a golem to help them out.
“Etan, there are many things from the old world from your ancestors that we carry with us always. It’s our fire. Our light. But there are somethings from those times that are still with us.” (114)
When the mud doesn’t work permanently, Mrs. Li tells Etan, “Your friendship for this girl is the oldest and strongest form of medicine you can ever give her. Remind her that she is not alone.” (161)
His grandfather agrees, “…each of us has his own story. You have a chance to be the light, to help a friend.” (178)
Etan helps Malia find her voice, and, when the earthquake nearly destroys the city, the community joins together, and Etan former friend Jordan and the bully Martin also contribute.
At the same time, his grandfather acknowledges that Etan is nearing the age of thirteen, the age of Bar Mitzvah and becoming a man, and he gives Etan family artifacts that he had brought from Prague to “connect you to the old world like a bridge, to remind you of where you came from and who you are, and that anything is possible.” (298) This gives Etan the idea of how to help put things back together. “The old and the new mix together, making something completely new, making something together.” (323)
A memorable story of friendship, community, Jewish traditions, Filipino culture, and healing set during the October 17, 1989, San Francisco earthquake and the legendary Game 3 of the World Series between the Giants and the A’s, this story is magical but certainly not imperfect. ------------
The Visitors by Greg Howard
“All I know for sure is that a boy was hurt, and it was my fault. I don’t know exactly how he was hurt or what my part in it was, though. Those memories are gone, and I say good riddance. Ever since then, I haven’t been able to leave. So I try my best to carry on like the other lost souls around here, wishing for the day when we all might find a way to move on. But wishing is easy at Hollow Pines. It’s the being stuck here that’s hard.” (6)
Since his death, a 12-year old boy is stuck trapped in a former South Carolina Plantation with no way to move on. He doesn’t remember who he is or how he died or when he died. His “family” now consists of former inhabitants of the plantation: Retha Mae, the cook; Emma, her assistant; Teacherman, tutor to the owner’s stepchildren; Miss Rebecca, the owner’s grieving wife; Cousin Cornelius; Preacher; and Jackson Culpepper the Third, the evil owner of the plantation, and his malevolent shadow spirits.
When three adolescent visitors—Thomas, twins Mateo and Maya, and dog Goldie—arrive, the boy reveals himself, hoping they can somehow help him to remember and move on. Unfortunately Jackson Culpepper has other ideas for their souls. * * * “The sting of Daddy’s hand on my face. The names I was called at school—"sissy,” “homo,” “queer.” The heaviness in my head and the tightness in my chest. Ronnie. Ronnie’s betrayal—twice. (179)
The dead boy’s story is skillfully interwoven with the story of Will Perkins, a 7th grader who was relentlessly bullied for being gay, constantly abused by his father after his mother abandoned them, and betrayed by his best friend, and who disappeared 50 years previously. Coincidentally, the three visitors are investigating the disappearance of Will Perkins whose body was never discovered.
This is a most beautifully-written story of mystery, suspense, friendship, betrayal, and real history, a story that tackles impactful subjects, such as slavery, trans and gay children, and mental health. I read through in two days, sitting on the edge of my seat, making guesses along with the protagonist.
Not only a riveting story that will engage all readers, even reluctant readers, The Visitors is a crucial story to have available to all adolescent readers because
As the author states, “They (LGBTQ youth) need to feel seen and have their experiences, and their stories, validated.” and
“Young non-queer readers can learn empathy by reading stories about queer, othered, and marginalized kids.” (Author’s Note, 247)
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people; and
LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to seriously consider suicide, to make a plan for suicide, and to attempt suicide than their peers (The Trevor Project)
Unsettled by Reem Faruqi (verse novel)
In my last school, I always knew where to sit and with who. In my last school, my name was known. In my last school, my voice was loud. In this school, I am mute. In this school, I am invisible. (91-92)
Nurah, her older brother Owais and their parents move from Karachi, Pakistan, to Peachtree, Georgia, for better schools and job security, leaving behind her three grandparents and her best friend Asna. The transition is not easy. In America they live in a hotel; Nurah’s mother seems to be fading, and her brother begins rebelling. When Nurah and Owais find a swimming pool at the Rec Center, they regain a bit of home. But Owais is an expert swimmer, appearing to fit in more effortlessly.
It is important to note that my skin is dark like the heel of oatmeal bread while Owais’s skin is light like the center of oatmeal bread. We do not look alike are not recognized as brother and sister. (225)
The water is Nurah’s only friend, until
“Do you want to eat lunch with me?” 8 words that change my life. (110)
Nurah’s new friend Stahr also wears long sleeves, but not from Muslim modesty, and her secret bring the two girls and their mothers together.
And one day when Stahr is not at school at lunchtime, and Naurah is being bullied,
“I’m Destiny. You can eat with us…” (216)
And then Owais is beat up by two of the boys on the swim team, jealous of his success, and Nurah feels guilty for not warning him to not go into the locker room. After his hospitalization, he gives up swimming.
he is always in his room lately, because he is safer on land than in water (265)
And Nurah discovers another type of bullying when the boy she likes and his friends make fun of her visiting grandmother whose “mind becomes so tangled.”
I remember when my tongue Betrayed me. I remember I need to say something. I go back in to their laughter. I find my voice and spit it out “It’s not funny.” The store gets Very Quiet and I feel light again. I grab Dadi’s ice cream. I remember what hope tastes like… (273)
When Nurah decides to begin wearing her hijab,
In the beginning the looks of others spear me but the more I wear it the easier it becomes. the more I wear it the looks seem to soften. (284)
Finally, at the masjid with Owais and his new friend Junaid
Today I wear my hijab , Tightly wrapped, shimmery light blue,… today when I look in the mirror, I think-- “Not bad.” I feel prettier than I have In a long time And exactly where I’m supposed to be. (305)
A story of transition, new beginnings, the importance of friendship, and finding one’s voice and our “something unexpected,” Reem Faruqi’s verse novel is based on her childhood experiences as an immigrant living in Georgia. ------------
Worser by Jennifer Ziegler
“He thought of Mr. Murray’s parting quip: ‘Go home before you can’t recognize your family anymore.’” (98)
Will Orser, unfortunately nicknamed Worser by his classmates when his name was listed as W. Orser, is a wordsmith. Everything about words and wordplay intrigues him. And he used to share this passion with his mother. But Professor Orser suffered a severe stroke and has not only lost her speech but the person she once was, and Worser’s life has changed (or become worser).
Worser’s father died when he was four, and it has been just his mother and him. Until now. Aunt Iris has moved in, and with all her quirkiness and “smothering,” has taken over the household. She has not only filled the living room with her p-ohms (sculptures for meditating), but she washes the clothes that have been sitting in a laundry basket for who-knows-how-long, buys Worser new clothes that fit and are more fashionable, and, worse of all, has his mother singing and laughing. “What did he want? Worser stared at his sullen expression in the mirror. He wanted to go back to before his mother’s stroke, that’s what.” (109)
But Worser is also changing. Always a loner who sought solitude, he starts hanging out more with Herbie, also an outsider. When the school library closes, he is forced to find a new place to work on his Masterwork of words. He bargains for a table in the Re-Visions Book Store owned by the sullen and ufriendly Mr. Murray and develops a crush on Donya Khoury, leader of the school Lit Club. When the Lit Club needs a meeting place, Worser talks Mr. Murray into letting them meet at Re-Visions, and, surprisingly, he becomes part of the group. “Worser headed out of the bookstore feeling changed. It was a mood he hadn’t experienced in quite a while. He pondered the right word as he headed home.…There was only one word that could be right. A word he wouldn’t have thought possible—especially since his mother’s illness. ‘Happy.’” (135)
But Donya starts hanging out with Turk, Worser’s bully (or so he feels) and a mangler of language (or so it appears); his mother’s recovery will be taking longer than hoped; and everything starts going downhill—until Worser commits an act that has significant repercussions‚ both negative and positive.
This is a story about learning to accept help. Worser, renamed Worder acknowledges, “We can speak about the future, but the verb doesn’t change from its present-tense form. It’s only though the use of auxiliary verbs like ‘will’ that we denote future tense.…The only way we can get out of the present and into the future is with help.” (234) ------------
Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Heroby Saadia Faruqi
“Suspicion of those unlike us is common human behavior. We don’t trust who we don’t know. But yes, 9/11 was terrible, and it really fueled the fire of hatred in this country.” (184-5)
Sixth grader Yusuf Azeem was born in Texas and is an American; his mother was also born in America and his father was a Pakistani immigrant who runs the popular A to Z Dollar Store in town (and a somewhat a local hero after capturing an intruder threatening his store and customers). The family is Muslim, but, understandably, Yusuf is shocked when sixth grade begins with threatening notes in his locker. When one says, “Go home,” he hurt and confused. Frey is his home. Surely the notes are meant for someone else.
September 11, 2021 is approaching, and when his mother’s younger brother Uncle Rahman comes for a visit, he notes, “The twentieth anniversary of the attacks is coming up soon.” Abba drank some water. “Does it matter? It’s been twenty years.” Uncle Rahman looked stern. “You don’t mean that. You know it still affects us every single day. At work. On the street. At the airport.” (21) Before leaving, Uncle Rahman gives Ausuf the journal he started keeping after the events. “I was your age when 9/11 happened. It was an emotional time for everyone, and it was hard for me to process…. I ended up writing about some of my experiences, trying to figure things out…. My place in the world. How it all changed in an instant, how I became a stranger in my own country.” (23-24)
As the town’s 20th anniversary celebration approaches, Ethan, the sixth grade bully, harasses Yusuf and some of the other Muslim students while his father, leader of the Patriot Sons, makes life difficult for the adult Muslim community, spraying graffiti on the A to Z Dollar Store and trying to halt the construction of the mosque.
Yusuf stands up for other students whom Ethan bullies, and, when Cameron tells him that he shouldn’t “make waves,” that challenging things could be dangerous, Yusuf protests, “I wasn’t being a hero. I had to do that. It was my duty as a Muslim.” (182)
As poorly as his middle school year is going, Yusuf is excited to be captain of the Robotics Club which is preparing for the TRC competition that he has been looking forward to his whole life. Working with his best friend Danial and Cameron, a former friend who Yusuf thought had changed, both members of the Muslim community; his new friend Jared who happens to be Ethan’s cousin; and Madison, the one girl on their team, he forms a circle of allies. As his father tells him, “Life is full of all kinds of people, son. We just have to learn to avoid the bullies and stick with our friends.” (322)
This is a novel that may benefit from some background on the events of September 11, 2001 since the action takes places in 2021 but, read individually, Ausuf’s uncle’s journal will help fill in information. The importance of this particular novel is that is demonstrates that, for some of our citizens and students, “Twenty years. So much time. But things haven’t really changed at all.” (48) One of the major events in the story—when a little computer in his backpack beeped and, instead of questioning him and investigating, Ausuf is thrown in jail for twelve hours—is based on a real event from 2015 where Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim 14-year-old, was arrested at his high school because of a disassembled digital clock he brought to school to show his teachers [https://www.cnn.com/2015/09/16/us/texas-student-ahmed-muslim-clock-bomb].
It is vital that our children learn about 9/11 because, as Ausuf’s mamoo says, “History informs our present and affects our future.” (81) ------------
As illustrated by the statistics that measure bullying in schools and among students even through cyberbullying, it is imperative that teachers build community in their classrooms and across their academic teams and grades in order to make school a safe and supportive place for all students. Teachers must help their students acknowledge that they belong to a group together, that they are part of a “we” or “us,” and that any differences—divergent, backgrounds, experiences, cultures, talents, and skills—only make “us” stronger and better.
No More “Us” and “Them”: Classroom Lessons & Activities to Promote Peer Respectdelineates what steps educators can take to create an atmosphere where students feel accepted, included, and valuable to themselves and to their peers. The goal of the book is to change adolescent attitudes to lead to not just acceptance and tolerance, but toward an expansion of “us” and to respect for their classmates that will serve to spread an even wider net of respect.
This book provides ideas for lessons and activities that can be integrated into existing curricula and that meet a variety of content area standards in language arts, social studies, science, mathematics, foreign languages, physical education, art, and music, while also proposing ideas for advisory or homeroom periods and class, team, and grade gatherings to build respect in our classrooms, our schools, and our communities.
Suggested Books to Begin Conversations about Bullying for Younger Readers Picture Books
I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About A Simple Act of Kindness - Kerascoët
Bully on the Bus - Kathryn Apel
Chrysanthemum - Keven Henkes
Each Kindness - Jacqueline Woodson
The Juice Box Bully – Rob Somson and Maria Dismondy
My Name is Bilal – Asma Mobin-Uddin and Barbara Kiwak
The Recess Queen - Alexis O'Neil
Strictly No Elephants - Lisa Mantchev
Stick and Stone - Beth Ferry
Llama Llama and the Bully Goat - Anna Dewdney
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade - Justin Roberts
Bad Astrid - Eileen Brennan
Bully 101 – Doretta Groenendyk
My Secret Bully – Trudy Ludwig
One – Kathryn Otoshi
Picture Books (for older readers)
Bully - Patricia Polacco
Thank You, Mr. Falker - Patricia Polacco
Lower Elementary Chapter Books
Fancy Nancy and the Mean Girl - Jane O’Connor
Absolutely Alfie and the Worst Best Sleepover - Sally Warner
Jake Drake: Bully Buster - Andrew Clement
Super Emma - Sally Warner
The Hundred Dresses - Eleanor Estes
My Last Best Friend - Julie Bowe
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