Youths turn to books on bullying

By Dustin Petty
Staff writer 

A. S. King's novel shows one young man's experiences with - and triumph over - his school bully.

Vampires and wizards are not the only subjects sweeping the youth literature market in recent years. But by looking a little deeper, at titles like Dear Bully, Hate List and Payback, one would see that books about bullying have flushed the market over the past several years.  And it wasn’t in response to the media attention on the subject.

Nicole DuFort is a District Sales and Marketing Manager for Random House, the world’s largest publisher of books for young readers.

“The initiative to publish literature with bullying themes doesn’t come from the publishers or editors, she said.  “It’s the authors who anticipated the national conversation and wrote about it.”

Manuscripts usually take one to two years before becoming published, said DuFort.

One such author is A.S. King, who penned Everybody Sees the Ants.  Ants is the story of Lucky Lindeman, a high school student who endures extensive bullying at the hands of a classmate while he dreams of a grandfather he never knew.

In her blog, she speaks about what led her to the theme.“When I wrote Ants, bullying was not a ‘hot topic,’” she said.  “In fact, I was asked by one editor to take the bullying out of the book.  Books take quite a while to go from my computer to the shelf.  What’s a hot topic today is not going to be a hot topic in three years.  And long after this ‘hot topic’ goes away and is replaced with another, those million a week will be suffering in silence, just like they/we always did.”

Books like King’s are being recognized for the solace they can give bullied youth and their parents.

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) is a division of the American Library Association.  Each year, they compile lists of themed books that libraries and schools can utilize on certain subjects.  For 2012, a “Sticks and Stones” list was born, highlighting 24 examples of youth literature that focuses on bullying.

Valerie Davis is a librarian in the Campbell County Public Library system in Newport, Kentucky and she served as chair of the YALSA selection committee this year.  Her library is directly across the street from a high school and, as she says, she sees the good and bad in teenage life.

“As I find with many books about tough subjects, rarely do you get a teenager coming in and saying, ‘I need a book about [bullying],’” she said.  “But by creating the list and the resource, we are sliding a book into someone else’s hand.”

In her position, Davis conducts literature trainings for teachers across Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.  It’s at these times that she would share books that could be added to teacher’s existing or new curriculums focusing on bullying.

Teachers like Anne Nuttall.

Anne Nuttall teaches sixth grade at Crivitz Public Schools in Crivitz, Wisc.  Over the past year, she’s seen both bullying and reports of bullying go up among her students.  Despite discussions about what bullying actually entails and sharing the district policy with her students and their parents, questions still arise.

“If there are resources available to teachers,” she said, “I would definitely utilize them.  Books about bullying would be a great addition to my classroom, with students that may be identified as bullies seeing what it’s like for the kids they may pick on.  And the kids who get picked on would simply see that they’re not alone.”

How one district uses the classics to fight bullying

By Adam Ilenich
Staff writer

English teachers Stephanie Livingston and Sue Doneson in Michigan’s Haslett High School are taking an active approach against bullying in school by integrating novels that deal with respect and responsibility into the 9-12 grade English language arts curriculum.

They hope students will discuss certain novels in a safe classroom environment and that these dialogues about characters will influence daily lives.

Students in ninth grade read “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson and “The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls.

“In the books, students see coping strategies and ways to deal with the bullying and ostracism. Both of these pieces have to deal with young people. ‘Speak’ is about a ninth grade girl, so that very much connects with their experiences,” said Livingston.

“In the English 10 course we teach ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck and we talk quite a bit about overcoming prejudice toward those with disabilities and the choices we make to survive that prejudice, specifically related to a character with disabilities,” said Doneson. “In the honors section, we teach classics ‘Scarlet Letter’ and ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,’ both dealing with ostracism from a community and how a person overcomes that and the dehumanizing treatment a person can overcome if they are considered an outsider from that community.”

Students in the 11th grade read “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding.

“We talk quite a bit about the dehumanizing treatment of one group of boys toward another and the physical size difference and how that plays into bullying and harassment and how that is used as a mechanism to intimidate. We talk about coping mechanisms and ways in which the group dynamic can change and be altered with particular leaders and how to deal with that,” said Livingston.

The 12th grade world literature course is geared toward recognizing the importance of personal responsibility and respecting the diverse cultures that surround us.

School Board Trustee Robert Fowler said, “We’ve been doing this for a long time — there’s so much attention to bullying these days, as if we’ve just woken up and realized that it’s a bad thing.”

Michigan adopted a law in December, 2011, requiring all districts to submit antibullying policies to the state within six months.

“I actually think that some of our legislators think that if they hadn’t passed this law, nobody would do anything about bullying and that’s not the case with our district,” said Fowler.

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