February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Choice Books to Spark Discussion on Bullying


It might be a shove in the hallway, a verbal taunt during lunch, an individual being cruelly excluded or ignored, or an offensive text message. Bullying continues to be an emotionally, physically, and psychologically devastating problem for children and teens, and an important issue for parents and school staff, particularly at the middle school level.

The Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2011, a report published by the National Center for Education Statistics, states that in 2009, 39 percent of sixth graders reported being bullied at school, with the number dropping only slightly for seventh and eighth graders.  A survey from the Cyberbullying Resarch Center done in 2007 shows that 43 percent of middle-school students polled indicated that they had experienced cyberbullying (an upsetting email, IM, or MySpace posting). Geared toward this age group and including both fiction and nonfiction, these books address the issue of bullying in a variety of ways, providing information, offering the comfort of knowing that others are facing similar challenges, and presenting strategies for surviving. Booktalk them and recommend them to teachers to share with their students to increase awareness and empathy, initiate discussion, and begin to bring about change.


Bully. By Patricia Polacco. illus. by author. Putnam. 2012. Trade $17.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25704-9.

Gr 4-6–Two sixth-graders, both new to their school, become best buddies, but when Lyla is invited into the popular clique, the three girls pressure her to end her friendship with Jamie (“OMG, he is such a blimp”). After they post a spiteful photo on the boy’s Facebook page, Lyla finally has enough and cuts ties, but queen bee Gage has a plan for revenge, and only Jamie can save the day. Polacco pairs an accessible narrative with dynamic illustrations to depict a realistic middle-school milieu. Read this picture book aloud to launch conversation about the harmful effects of cyberbullying.

The Bully Book. By Eric Kahn Gale. HarperCollins/Harper. 2013. Trade $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-22511-8; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-212515-6.

Gr 5-7–Average-guy Eric Haskins suddenly finds himself the target of an elaborate bullying scheme that eventually encompasses his entire sixth-grade class and turns even long-time friends against him. Desperate to discover why he has been singled out as “the Grunt,” he becomes obsessed with tracking down a book rumored to have the answers. Eric’s journal entries candidly reveal the emotional fall-out of being victimized while his efforts to solve the mystery propel the action forward. Pages from “The Bully Book,” a ruthless kid-written manual on how to rule the school, add a chilling glimpse into a bully’s mindset and methods. Eric will win over readers with his resiliency, and what he ultimately learns–about himself and others–is empowering. Harrowing, riveting, and compellingly discussable.

Bystander. By James Preller. Feiwel and Friends. 2009. Trade $16.99. ISBN 978-0-312-37906-3; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-312-54796-7; eBook $7.99. ISBN 9781429954969.

Gr 6-9–The new kid in school, seventh-grader Eric Hayes is relieved when a popular and charismatic classmate strikes up a friendship, and at first looks the other way when Griffin bullies another boy. Gradually realizing that his silence makes him an accomplice, Eric summons the courage to take a stand, only to become the next victim. Combining well-developed characters with a keen understanding of the middle-school social strata, Preller makes Eric’s experiences painfully real and thoroughly believable.

Hokey Pokey. By Jerry Spinelli. Knopf. 2013. Trade $15.99. ISBN 978-0-375-83198-0; Library Edition $18.99. ISBN 978-0-375-93198-7; eBook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-307-97570-6.

Gr 5-7–This mesmerizing coming-of-age tale is set in a daydreamy world in which kids do as they please and adults are nowhere to be found. Jack, looked up to by all from the tiniest Snotsippers to the top-of-the-heap Big Kids, awakens one morning and just knows that something’s different. He spends one last epic day revisiting his favorite places and pastimes, redefining relationships, putting a bully in his place, and preparing to bid farewell to Hokey Pokey. Inventive, insightful, and bedazzling, this novel presents a potent look at how kids interact with one another, mature, and change.

Slob. By Ellen Potter. Philomel. 2009. Trade $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-24705-7; ebook $13.99. ISBN 9781101050811.

Gr 6-8–Overweight and genius-smart, seventh-grader Owen is the bully magnet at his progressive New York City school, taunted by classmates, persecuted by a sadistic P.E. teacher, and now the victim of a lunch-sack Oreo thief. Not only is he determined to catch the cookie snatcher, but he’s also hard at work inventing a TV time-machine that will re-play the details of the tragic day his parents were murdered two years earlier. As events unfold and mysteries are slowly solved, Owen learns things about himself–and the bully he most fears–that will change his life forever. Wise and witty, Owen’s first-person narrative is packed with heartache and humor.

The Truth about Truman School. By Dori Hillestad Bulter. Albert Whitman. 2008. Trade $15.99.  ISBN 978-0-8075-8095-0; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-8075-8096-7.

Gr 5-8–Feeling that the content of the school newspaper is being censored by the faculty advisor, eighth-grader Zebby Bower and her friend Amr Nasir launch an underground website and invite submissions, hoping to provide a forum where students can discuss the truth about their school. However, when a popular girl becomes the target of malicious anonymous posts, things escalate out of control. Accessibly told in the alternating voices of the parties involved, this fast-paced expose takes a timely look at the insidious nature of cyberbullying.

Warp Speed. By Lisa Yee. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. 2011. Trade $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-12276-4.

Gr 5-9–Self-admitted sci-fi nerd and AV Club “geekazoid” Marley Sandelski spends much of seventh grade either ignored by the popular group or dogged by punch-throwing homework-grabbing goons. However, when his ability to outrun bullies catches the eye of the track coach, and he actually wins a race, his new and unexpected position at the top of the social heap leads to revelations about himself and his number-one tormentor. Told with plenty of humor (and entertaining Star Trek references), this fast-moving tale features true-life situations and characters and sends a powerful message about empathy.



Girls against Girls: Why We Are Mean to Each Other and How We Can Change. By Bonnie Burton.  Zest. 2011. pap. $12.99. ISBN 978-0-970173-6-0.

Gr 6-10—Fast-reading chapters outline the reasons behind mean-girl behaviors, describe different types of “relational aggression” (malicious gossiping, social shunning, verbal abuse, etc.), provide easy-to-implement strategies for coping, and offer empowering methods to break the cycle of meanness and bring about change. Written in a chatty and encouraging tone, the well-researched text addresses readers directly and presents a plethora of useful tips, important resources, and positive solutions.

Teen Cyberbullying Investigated: Where Do Your Rights End and Consequences Begin? By Tom Jacobs. Free Spirit. 2010. pap. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-57542-339-5.

Gr 7 Up—From creating a website containing personal attacks on school faculty, to posting fake profiles online, to using a cell phone to send nude photos, Judge Jacobs introduces landmark court cases involving tweens and teens engaged in cyberbullying. Accessibly written chapters present the facts, provide perspective on both victims and perpetrators, and prompt kids to think about how they would decide the case. Real-world experiences and consequences are clearly delineated, making readers aware of their rights and ascertaining why it’s never been more important “to think before you click.”

We Want You to Know: Kids Talk about Bullying. By Deborah Ellis. Coteau. 2010. Trade $21.95. ISBN 978-1-55050-417-0; pap. $14.95. ISBN 978-15-5050-4637.

Gr 5-9—Ellis presents interviews with young people between the ages of 9 and 19 who talk candidly about their experiences as victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. The straightforward first-person narratives tell it like it is, often shockingly, and the accounts are intimate, eye-opening, and surprisingly hope-filled. Black-and-white photos put faces to names, and “What Do You Think?” questions follow each piece. Additional quotes from kids around the world demonstrate the global nature of this issue. An excellent choice for group discussion.


Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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  1. London Atwood says:

    Another book on bullying for the 8 to 12 crowd is BULLY AT AMBUSH CORNER by Karen Mueller Coombs.

  2. May I recommend LONG SHOT, my recently reissued novel about middle school, basketball phenom Laurie Bird Preston. Gym class and sports teams can be focal points for bullying. Healthy competition can easily degenerate into mocking and abuse. This “feel good” story is filled with techniques for combating bullying.

    Tim Tocher, author

  3. The comment section says “speak your mind” and so I am. My book Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind is also about bullying, in this case an Iranian girl who wears a head scarf and a teacher who may be gay.

  4. Thank you, SLJ and Joy Fleischhacker for including “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” (TCI) in this article. I hope your readers find TCI useful in the effort to educate our youth about the dangers of irresponsible online communications. -Judge Tom

  5. Another great book to spark discussion on bullying among 5-9 year olds is “Alley Oops” (written by Janice Levy, illustrated by Cynthia Decker), a picture book that is told from the unique perspective of a bully.

  6. J. C. Whyte says:

    I’d like to add my own new book to this list: Karmack. Published last week as an ebook aimed at kids 8-12, the book is also perfect for classroom read-a-louds.
    Karmack is the story of 3 tough guys notorious for pulling pranks and threatening other kids. But things begin to change when a strange little creature enters their lives. And from that point on, the bullies’ pranks start coming back like boomerangs, smacking them right in their 5th grade butts! In the end, the guys learn a valuable lesson about the consequences of being a bully and what it takes to be a true leader.
    For a limited time, I’m offering free downloads of the book to teachers and school librarians. Karmack is also available at online stores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

  7. The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention — A freak accident gives five middle school bullies super powers. But instead of transforming into cool super-beings, they take on the characteristics of the kids who they bully. Teachable moments along with action and LOTS of humor. http://jerrycraft.net/offenders.html