Monday, April 22, 2013

Bullying Is Not New and Neither Are Books About It

There has been a lot in the news and in educational circles about bullying lately, and in book circles about books addressing the issue.  But bullying is not new and neither are books about it.

In the classic The Hundred Dresses, Maddie joins in with her friend Peggy and their classmates in teasing Wanda, a poor immigrant girl for wearing the same dress every day.  Wanda leaves school before Maddie can make amends and Maddie's guilt haunts her.  She finally resolves that "She was never going to stand by and say nothing again.  If she ever heard anybody picking on someone because they were funny looking or because they had strange names, she'd speak up.  Even if it meant losing [her best friend's] friendship."  This is an admirable resolution but the book would be stronger if author Eleanor Estes had actually put Maddie's resolve to the test.

In the third Betsy Tacy book, Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, Betsy, Tacy and Tib do come to the rescue of their new friend Naima, a Syrian immigrant.  They stand up to a group of boys, even as Tib's dress is torn in the process.

In Molly's Pilgrim, an immigrant girl is again the victim of bullying.  Molly's classmates tease her for her old-world Russian-Jewish ways.  When she brings in a clothespin doll dressed in traditional garb for a homework assignment to make a pilgrim doll, the children sneer that the doll doesn't look like a pilgrim at all.  But just as Molly's mother explained she was a pilgrim - someone who came to this country for religious freedom - Molly's teacher gives the same explanation, adding that Thanksgiving is based on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, as described in the Old Testament.

Finally, in Bernard Waber's funny picture book, But Names Will Never Hurt Me, Alison Wonderland (whose ancestors' last name was changed from Voonterlant at Ellis Island) learns to live with her name and withstand the teasing she gets for it.

These books obviously don't address cyberbullying and social media.  But the message is the same.  Not only should you not bully other children, you should actually step up and defend them.

Can you think of any other older books that address bullying?


  1. What a cool post! I think about things like this a lot... meaning things that people act like are only a current or 'new' problem but have actually been around forever. I'm not sure about more books that address the issue... well Chrysanthemum by Henkes... but it isn't vintage.

  2. Thanks, Robyn! How could I have forgotten about Chrysanthemum?!?

  3. What a great point! It is so true that everyone talks about bullying as a relatively new issue. Obviously, L. now has The Hundred Dresses, but hopefully she will read the other books you mention here.

  4. And there is never a time when you can stop talking about it. Thanks for the list.. we have read A Hundred Dresses and Each Kindness. Both are fantastic books about bullying.