Thursday, October 31, 2013

Raising awareness about something truly scary this Halloween: Bullying

Traditionally Halloween celebrates all things “scary”—like witches, goblins, and ghouls, oh my! But the month of October revolves around another matter that truly is scary: bullying.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. The month-long campaign, first conceived in 2006 by the PACER Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights), is meant to raise awareness about bullying and address how to prevent it via events, activities, outreach, and education.

The PACER National Bullying Prevention Center puts the number of kids who experience bullying at nearly one in every three kids, or over 13 million students. According to a recent Publishers Weekly article on the topic, bullying incidents reported in the news in the past several months alone have led to school transfers, arrests, and teens contemplating—and at times carrying out—suicide.

Books about bullying can raise awareness about the issue in ways that few other outlets can. They show bullied kids that they are not alone, teach kids how to deal with bullying, and address how and when bullied kids should seek help. So it makes sense that books about bullying have exploded in recent years as kids, parents, and teachers have recognized the increasing importance—and scariness—of bullying.

In its bullying article, Publishers Weekly compiled a number of recent and upcoming books on bullying that kids and parents alike should seek out. Among these is the JVNLA middle grade memoir Gabe and Izzy: Standing Up for America's Bullied. The book is written by Gabrielle Ford with Sarah Thomson and is coming out from Puffin in March 2014.

Gabrielle Ford, or Gabe, has a rare genetic neuro-muscular disease. From a young age, the disease slurred her speech and made her walking unsteady—before it eventually put her in a wheelchair. In school, her classmates bullied her relentlessly for being different. As a result, Gabe grew depressed and she isolated herself from her community. But when Gabe's parents got her a dog, Izzy, Gabe's life changed forever. Izzy became her best friend when no one else would. And then, when Izzy developed a condition mysteriously similar to Gabe's, Gabe reentered her community to speak out so Izzy could get the best treatment available.

Gabe's memoir is an inspirational story (perfect for pet lovers, too) that gets right to the heart of how hard it is to overcome bullying and yet how important it is to speak out against it. Today, Gabe travels to schools and conferences across the country to speak about bullying prevention. Considered one of the original anti-bullying advocates, she and Izzy have been featured on Animal Planet's A Pet Story, and she has been named “Greatest Person of the Day” by The Huffington Post, among other accolades.

Several other JVNLA books from recent years also deal with issues of bullying.

Ellen Potter's Slob is a middle grade book like Gabe and Izzy, but it is fiction. The novel was published by Philomel in 2009 and was a selection of the Junior Library Guild.  

Slob relates the story of Owen, a boy who is bullied by his gym teacher and classmates for being the fattest kid in school. Though Owen is a science genius, there are some things he just can't understand, like how to stop others from humiliating him and who keeps stealing his Oreos. Owen must deal with these issues while also trying to unravel a mysterious family mystery.  

Kirkus Reviews called Slob “intriguingly offbeat...humorous, suspenseful, and poignant.”

Hershey Herself by Cecilia Galante is another middle grade novel dealing with bullying. It was released by Aladdin in 2008 and was called “touching, frank, and sincere” by The Compulsive Reader.

Hershey is bullied by her classmates for being overweight while her best friend Phoebe is bullied for dressing differently. Yet even as the story revolves around their school bullying conflicts, it also addresses how aspects of bullying can bleed into adulthood: In another central conflict, Hershey and her mother must run away to a women's shelter to escape her mother's abusive boyfriend.

The Summer of May is another middle-grade novel by Galante involving bullying, which Aladdin published in 2011. In this book, however, the main character is a bit of a bully herself.

May is going through a particularly tough time because she and her family have recently moved into a new, rundown neighborhood; her father works long hours and often gets into yelling arguments with her; and her grandmother is withdrawn and depressed, mourning the absence of May's mother. May detests her eighth-grade teacher, makes fun of her, and even goes so far as to graffiti her classroom with a mean insult. Her punishment is to attend summer school with the very teacher she has insulted. But when everything becomes too much for May, she turns on her best friend and goes too far in fighting with her father. May must confront her anger and its consequences if she wants to prevent her life from spiraling completely out of control.  

Publishers Weekly praised The Summer of May for “investigat[ing] the impact of loss and the importance of making amends” and said the novel was “brimming with emotion and insight into adolescent rage.”

Each of these books tells a phenomenal story in addition to teaching kids how they can deal with bullying head on. Though Halloween's arrival means October is ending—which also means National Bullying Prevention Month is coming to a close—these books are truly timeless reads. So pick up your copies whenever you have a chance, and dive in!

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