When my third grader was struggling at school due to an uptick in teasing by the boys in his class, my mother sent us Patricia Polacco’s latest children’s book called Bully.
His teacher and I had commiserated, and she was on the lookout. She had come up with a great idea for talking to my son first, so that they could figure out a way together to let the other kids know he was upset. I liked that. He refused to talk.
The book helped.
I realized he was going to remain tight-lipped if he felt like he was being put on the spot. So after they opened the package, I just left the book in our living room for a few days.
The third grader was the first to pick it up. He snuggled into the couch and read.
The story is about Lyla, a new girl at school who starts on the outside of the cool circle of girls, but due to her smarts and cheerleading abilities, is finally embraced by them. The problem – they post really mean things on their classmates’ Facebook pages. And one of their chief victims is Lyla’s best friend, the boy who first welcomed her to the school.
When Lyla decides to stand by him, the “cool” crowd disowns her and then goes on the attack to get her back for choosing him over them.
Polacco seems to have purposely written this book as a tool for teachers, parents and school counselors to encourage kids to say something when they are getting bullied. It also can act as a way to discuss Internet and other bullying in a safe environment, where no one feels like the accuser or accused. Polacco ends the book when Lyla and her friend are trying to decide whether to change schools. The last line is “What Would You Do?”
After my third grader read the book twice, my fourth grader picked it up. When he was done reading, I asked them both what they thought. I asked the third grader if that’s what was happening in his class, and he said it wasn’t as bad as the book. Just a little teasing that drives him crazy even though it’s among friends.
I was glad he finally articulated it, and since then, he has not come home from school upset either because the teacher is on it, or he has realized that what the kids are doing in his class is more goofy than mean. Or both.
When I asked them what they would do if they were Lyla, my fourth grader said, “I would change schools.”
I was surprised. Change is not his thing.
“Because,” he said, “the teachers at that school aren’t paying attention. It always happens at lunch or recess.”
“Or on the way to carpool,” piped in the third grader.
“Yeah,” added the fourth grader, “that’s when they need to be watching.”