When I need to better understand something, I turn to books. As a parent, when I want to get a message across to my son, I also turn to books. As a lifelong avid reader (and somewhat of an introvert), I have always absorbed information better through printed pages than through verbal conversation. If you want me to learn something, don’t tell me, write it down. I want my son to know that teasing other kids is not right, that words can hurt. So obviously, I turned to books about bullying to help him absorb the message.
Since, sadly, kids are being bullied in kindergarten and, in some cases, even earlier, it’s important to start reading them books about bullying at an early age. I’m dividing this guide into three categories: the early years (preschool through early elementary), middle grade years and young adult. That way you can go right to the section you need.
Books about Bullying for Preschoolers and Elementary School Kids
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Much of our children’s personalities and values are formed during the early years. Books about bullying geared towards this age group teach the fundamentals: empathy, standing up for others and overall kindness.
Llama Llama and the Bully Goat: I have always been a huge fan of the Llama Llama stories. When my son was little, I had Llama Llama Red Pajama memorized! Now that he’s 8, he’s moved on from them, but sometimes he lets me read them to him for old time’s sake. In Llama Llama and the Bully Goat, Llama loves singing. Unfortunately, Gilroy Goat teases him about it and makes him feel bad. Llama tells on him, but still, he feels bad. He wants to be friends with Gilroy! This is a great lesson about how to turn a bully into a friend.
Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns About Bullies: I read just about every single Howard B. Wigglebottom book with Jacob. In fact, he took this one in to read with his class in Kindergarten. Howard is a bunny who finds himself struggling with things that all kids struggle with. Sometimes he has a difficult time listening, others he struggles to cheer up his friend. In this book, Howard is dealing with a bully. Howard tries to deal with it on his own at first, but then realizes he must tell someone. I HIGHLY recommend the entire Howard B. Wigglebottom series to parents with school-age kids.
The Juice Box Bully: Empowering Kids to Stand Up For Others: The beautiful thing about this book is that it teaches kids to stop being bystanders. The children in the story make a promise to stand up for others. When a new student starts off on the wrong foot by acting like a bully, the kids use kindness to turn him around.
Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy: A major part of preventing bullying in our children is making sure they understand empathy. By knowing what others feel, it helps kids develop stronger bonds with their peers. This book helps kids learn what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes, to feel what they feel. Need more help on teaching empathy? We have an excellent expert guest post on using empathic interpretation to prevent bullying.
Spaghetti in A Hot Dog Bun: Having the Courage to Be Who You Are: Lucy is a one-of-a-kind girl and she’s pretty happy about that. She doesn’t understand why Ralph has to be so mean to her about it! A situation comes up and Ralph needs help. Lucy, being a courageous and kind girl, gives it to him. The result is a story that teaches children about making good choices that they can be proud of, even when it means you have to help someone who has been mean to you.
Books about Bullying for Middle Grade Kids
As kids enter middle school, bullying often intensifies. Books about bullying for this age group are typically a bit longer and deeper than the elementary school books. At 8-years-old, my son is on the cusp of elementary and middle grade. While he still enjoys some of the books for younger kids, he’s pretty much all about Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid these days. I find that humorous stories are the best way to get messages across to him at this age. Older Middle Grade students can often handle deeper stories though, so I’ve included a mix.
Confessions of a Former Bully: Although it’s relatively short at just under 50 pages, this books tells the story from the bully’s point of view. Katie gets caught teasing classmates and is sent to counseling. While there, she learns that her bullying didn’t just hurt her peers, but also herself.
Wonder: August loves video games, movies and all the other things that kids his age love. He happens to have a facial deformity, though, and his parents homeschooled him most of his life. He decides to go to public school in 5th grade and just wants to be treated like a normal kid. His classmates, however, have a hard time getting past his physical appearance. The story stats in August’s perspective, but shifts to include those of others, including his sister and classmates. It’s an award-winning book that teaches kids about not judging a person by their looks.
Stargirl: When Stargirl first arrives in school, everyone is in awe of just how unique she is (and possibly a bit magical?). But as time passes, kids start to question the things that make her unique. She’s pressured to become more like the other kids, especially by her first love. Will she bow to the pressure or continue to be herself? Stargirl is recommended for the upper middle grades, around 7th grade and up.
Bystander: This is another one for the upper middle grades. In James Preller’s novel, Eric is new at school and is happy when Griffin wants to be his friend. Soon, though, he realizes that Griffin isn’t exactly a nice kid. Eric realizes that Griffin is a bully. In a shocking moment, though, Eric goes from being a bystander to Griffin’s next victim.
Young Adult Books about Bullying
The YA genre is actually one of my favorites, even though I’m 38 and far from my YA years. Books about bullying for this age group tend to be more intense. Whether it’s a dystopian view of society, a paranormal love story or a coming-of-age tale, a great number of YA books carry an anti-bullying message.
Divergent: Stick with me for a minute here before you say “how on earth is this about bullying?” Think about it: everyone in society has ONE TRAIT that makes them special. One trait alone. Their either kind, smart, giving, fearless or honest. Having more than one trait makes you dangerous. Being yourself can get you killed. Yet one girl has the courage to stand up and do what’s right, to help protect all others like her from a future of being hunted. If that’s not a positive anti-bullying message, I don’t know what is!
Empty: Empty is an incredibly powerful book about the downward spiral of a girl who is horribly betrayed by the one person she thought she could trust. It’s an intense book that you may want to read before giving it to your teen, that way you can be prepared for some important discussions. We interviewed author Kate Walton, who has spent her career developing ways to prevent bullying in schools.
The List: Every year before homecoming, a list is posted all around the high school. This list chooses two girls from each grade: the prettiest and the ugliest. As you can imagine, the girls all react in different ways depending on their position on the list. This is a story about the pettiness that can take place in high school, the damage to body image we girls suffered during those years. You may think that the pretty girls have it easy in the story. You may be very wrong, though.
Thirteen Reasons Why: Bullying has claimed the life of way too many teenagers, including Hannah Baker, the fictional inspiration behind this book. Clay, who had a major crush on Hannah, finds a package with cassette tapes on his porch two weeks after Hannah’s death. In it, she recounts the 13 reasons why she took her life, including one that involves Clay. The book alternates between Hannah’s point-of-view (as told through the audio tapes) and Clay’s voice.
Invisible: Jazmine wants nothing more than to just be invisible. She doesn’t need friends, doesn’t want to make decisions, doesn’t want to be bothered with or by anyone. When her teacher forces her to take part in her school play, she starts to come out of her shell a bit. But can she stand up to a bully and face the truth about what happened to her own father? Fans of The Secret Garden will enjoy the literary allusions and parallel plot line.
There are probably thousands of books about bullying out there for all age groups. These are just some of the highest-rated and most engaging books on the subject in my opinion. If you know of others that should be included on the list, please let us know. Also, we’re planning an article with books about bullying for parents as well. If you have suggestions for that list, please leave us a comment.