Steps to Ending Bullying

My old elementary school undertook a pilot program within our district to deal with the issue of bullying. I felt so proud of our principal and our school and so pleased to be part of the task force that worked on the implementation. We used the Olweus Program, an approach backed by research. It provides staff training, support for parent involvement, and a number of materials for classroom use and for the school as a whole. There is a financial investment involved.

While many schools have tried to find free bullying prevention programs in these years of tight budgets, some of the available programs advocate practices that Olweus’ research finds unhelpful, at best. Dan Olweus began the program in Norway. It has been around long enough to evaluate the results. If your school or other organization is looking for a program, here are two sites you might want to visit:  and  (Clemson University does research on bullying.)

One of the main tenets of the Olweus program states it’s the adults’ job to establish the school culture and to deal with bullying. While you teach children things that they can do, the onus is not put on children to take care of the problem themselves. Since bullying involves an imbalance of power, this can be impossible for a victimized child to handle.

The program teaches the children to tell an adult at school and an adult at home if they are the victim of bullying or if they observe bullying. Observing bullying has documented negative effects on non-targeted children also. Children are also taught to be aware of children who have no one to play with and to invite those children into a game. Many victims of bullying are the children who are isolated at school. And some of those children become bullies themselves.

The program teaches both children and adults the difference between true bullying  and teasing or arguments between friends. The school sets up a system to document instances of bullying—first to help differentiate between isolated events and patterns of behavior and also to make sure consequences are consistently and predictably applied.

A picture book that dovetails well with this program is Nobody Knew What to Do: A Story About Bullying, written by Becky Ray McCain, illustrated by Todd Leonardo, and published in 2001 by Albert Whitman. I used to read it with my first graders. One criticism I’ve seen of the book is that it makes bullying sound so simple to solve, but within the context of a story for younger students, it illustrates workable responses to bullying. A boy, who witnesses another child being bullied decides although frightened, he must report the on-going mistreatment. The adults respond appropriately and the school becomes a better place for everyone.

There are many books about bullies and I’ll be reviewing others in the months to come. The related photos of covers are a few of the books I found at the library, but haven’t had a chance to read yet. Many of the ones I have read and looked for on the shelf are currently checked out—a good sign, if a bit frustrating.

Please let us know about any books about bullying that you think are helpful and engaging.

Past and Future Faire

Last March I attended Meet the Authors and Bookfaire at the Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts of Whittier College (my alma mater). It was a wonderful day with authors—mesmerizing opening and closing keynote speakers. (Last year, Lisa See derailed my plan to leave a bit early for the long drive home. I could not make myself get up and leave.) There are two additional sessions, one before and one after lunch. Each session has a choice of one of three authors. So each attendee gets to hear four authors speak about their work. Because the event is relatively small, it’s possible to talk to the authors in the sessions, at lunch, and when they are signing books.

This year, Bookfaire will be held on Sat. March 23, 2013. I will send out more information later (including this year’s speakers and the cost). But if you live in Southern California and this is your idea of a lovely day surrounded by book lovers, keep it in mind. I will be introducing Laura McNeal, an author of young adult novels. Her books will be featured in an upcoming post.

Meanwhile, “Go, Poets!” (How can you not love a school that cheers poets at football games?)

And tomorrow, I’m off to meet my sister at The Road to California Quilt Show. Happy fabric to all.

Random Acts of Reading

When I was a freshman at Whittier College in nineteen…mumble, mumble, every student in the freshman class did a final paper on Moby-Dick, written by Herman Melville and first published in 1851. Not only did we do a paper, we had to first construct a classification on some aspect or topic of the book. This was not a five paragraph essay. The huge project had people buying rolls of shelf paper to roll out in the dorm hallways just to have enough room to work on the classification. Most students were annoyed or angry that we had to do it; but, as a team-building exercise for a whole student body, it was brilliant. And everyone who attended Whittier in those years has a Moby Dick story.

So when one of my critique groups decided, in the spirit of learning good writing from good writers, to read Moby-Dick (intro and notes by Carl F. Hovde and published by Barnes & Noble, Inc. in 2003) together (as in “aloud together”) I was game to go back and compare a current perspective to my teenage perspective.

The group found incredible richness and humor in Melville’s allusions and references. We also found that it would probably take three to four years to complete the book using our method (very fun and very slow).

However, in the course of our investigations, I came upon a condensed version of the full-length 655 page epic.

Twin brothers Jack and Holman Wang are making Cozy Classics board books—twelve word versions of classic works of literature. One brother writes and the other makes needle-felted illustrations. When I read that they had discussed doing twenty word versions but decided that would bring in sub-plots, I knew I had to have these books.

Both Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice finally came out in the fall of 2012, published by Simply Read Books. I love them. How fun to read with a child, who can later find a mature version of a favorite childhood book. The illustrations are wonderful. I’ve heard adults laugh out loud at the simplicity of the language. And, as I get close to 400 words, they are models to writers of the art of being concise (anybody know the noun form of ‘concise’ that I can substitute for four words?).

After I wrote about Red Sled (“More Christmas Books for Children and a Blatant Ad” post of 12/20/12), I decided I should take my own advice and asked two preschoolers if they would “read” the story to me using the pictures. What Fun! We laughed and had a great time. I didn’t give the book to my great-nephew after all. Maybe next year or the year after that. I have to read it a few more times first.

The middle grade book of the week is The Lightning Thief, the first book in The Olympians series by Rick Riordan and published by Disney*Hyperion Books in 2005. If you love Greek mythology, if you want to love Greek mythology or just need a reason to care, if you know a kid with ADHD who needs a hero, check this book out. It’s an exciting adventure as Percy Jackson discovers his missing father is actually a god and that he, Percy, must race to avert a war between the gods—a war that will have disastrous results for humankind.

Finally, for young adults and older, look for Between Shades of Gray, written by Ruta Sepetys, published by SPEAK, the Penguin Group in 2011, and winner of The Golden Kite Award. Do not confuse this book with the other “shades of gray” books. They are not alike. Ms. Sepetys’ novel deals with a piece of history that was overshadowed by other WWII horrors. The author chose historical fiction to emotionally protect people in Lithuania who are still afraid of Stalin.

The very first sentence is simple and compelling. “They took me in my nightgown.” Ms. Sepetys does a masterful job of jumping right into the story and providing little nuggets of back story as the events unfold. I was able to hear her speak about the process of discovering her family’s history while learning more about herself as she researched and wrote the book. Both stories haunt the reader or listener. There are very good reasons her fellow authors picked her for The Golden Kite.

WARNING: don’t start the book late at night.

Does this log look like a crocodile to you?

Eureka! This week the post is finished by Thursday. Now go read a good book.