Books with Bullies


I received a couple of emails asking for book recommendations, which I love. I don’t have all the answers, but I do like researching, and I’m smart enough to know when I’m out of my depth or when more than one voice may be beneficial. One email, in particular, struck close to home. It’s about bullying. Or, maybe bullying isn’t the right word, because I think that word gets overused. Playground politics might be a better way to describe the weirdness that surrounds 4th – 6th grade boys.

This year has been challenging for Mikey. He’s sensitive to teasing, even when the teasing is harmless and comes from his best friends. He, however, has no problem teasing other kids. He’s also prone to bottling up his frustrations. Top this with his elephantine memory and grudge holding capabilities, and we have a boy who loses his temper over something small because he didn’t address weeks ago an issue that really bothered him.

Here’s part of the email I received the other day.

Hi Jules,

I have a favor to ask of you, my 11 year old grandson has been acting out a bit at school (who knows why). This week he said some very hurtful things to a classmate. My daughter has talked with him about how our words can be so hurtful and actually shape another’s personality and how they view themselves. Do you know of a good book dealing with bullying and is one that will help to drive home the emotional side of these kind of actions? A novel with emotional impact.

She goes on to say that her grandson is an impressionable reader. He is one of those readers who can immerse himself in the characters, so reading a story about the other side of bullying might open his eyes to a new perspective. It’s a technique I’ve used with Mikey in the past–and present–because he, too, is an impressionable reader.

My immediate thought was Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. This is such an incredible book. I’m reading it to 4th through 7th, and they all love it. August is a boy with Treacher-Collins syndrome who finds himself in middle school after a life of homeschooling. His frequent reconstructive surgeries made homeschooling the natural choice. He has issues with a mean boy. He struggles to make friends. A friend betrays him. It’s an amazing book, not just because it deals with “bullying,” but because it also deals with mistakes. August knows that most people don’t mean any harm. They’re curious. How R.J. Palacio came up with the story is also inspiring, even though it did make me cringe. This is important, though, because it proves good people screw up. Then they learn from their mistakes and do better next time.

There is a scene in the book where August’s friend Jack teases him about his face. August and Jack can’t stop laughing, and at that point I stopped reading and asked Mikey’s class why they thought it was okay for Jack to tease August about his face, but not Julian (the “bully”). Mikey shot his hand up in the air and said, “Because Jack is August’s friend, and August knows he’s not saying it to be mean.” Then we got into a discussion about different types of humor, and how some people have dry humor, some people are sarcastic, and some people just like regular jokes. Your job as a friend is to know what kind of humor your friends enjoy and act accordingly.

It’s a great, great book.


I think I forgot to recommend that book in my reply email, if you can believe it. I was so consumed with presenting more than one option that I forgot to include my first pick! Lame, but so completely me. Anyway! I found a few lists of books and thought I’d share them here. If you have more books to recommend, please do so! That’s the whole point of this post. :)

This list on Goodreads is good, though some of the books may be too mature. 13 Reasons Why, for example, is about a suicide.

13 Reasons Why

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush – who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why. Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and learns the truth about himself-a truth he never wanted to face.

The book is for ages 12 and up, so it is a middle school book, but I haven’t read it so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the age range. I would like to read it, and I’ve heard great things about it, but it’s been almost a year and I still haven’t worked up the courage–and I’m a person who likes her books dark!

PBS has a list of books about bullies. It seems tamer, more appropriate for a younger crowd.

Finally, the state of Washington put together a comprehensive list of books called Recommended Children’s Books On Bullying/Friendship Issues. That link is to the .pdf file. I hope it doesn’t automatically download to your computer! On my end, it opens up to a new viewing window/page with the option to download or print.

Okay! Whew. Everyone still here? That’s all I’ve got, fiction-wise. I’m reading a book for adults and Mikey is reading this book on handling friendships. Again, suggestions welcome.

p.s. How do you like that 80s Blubber cover? I read that book in middle school, and it’s still in the library–or at least that same issue. I should check and see if my name is on the card! That would be something else.

Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. Susan G says

    I need to read Wonder – I didn’t know the details but now I’m more interested than ever. A schoolmate of my daughter had a younger sibling with Treacher Collins. Oddly enough, it was Halloween (just like in the author’s account of what happened to her) and we were at a school party. My 3yo came face to face with this little girl – I watched it happen and my heart was in my throat for the same reasons – afraid that Rachel would do or say something. Honestly? The two stared at each other for a moment or two (they were just the same size) and both moved on. Younger kids don’t have such strong ideas of what is “different” and what is “normal.”

  2. says

    I haven’t read Wonder yet–but many of the kids in our district have! Very popular title. Your Blubber cover brings back memories! And reminds me of something one of my library managers discovered this year. She had only old, dated-looking copies of The Westing Game. She’d been selling the book, but she couldn’t get any takers. She ordered some new ones, with updated cover art–and it went flying off the shelves.

    13 Reasons Why is a hard read, but a good one–for high schoolers. Also for high-schoolers, in a similar vein, is Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, about a freshman girl who is raped at a party by a popular boy and then ostracized when she calls the police.

    • says

      For high schoolers, right?! I’m not sure why13 Reasons Why is marked 12 and up. I assume it’s because there is no sexual content. Don’t get me started on how they determine age appropriateness.

      Maybe I should make Wonder part of the YA-ish book club?

  3. says

    Also, are you familiar with Titlewave? ( You can sign up for a free account, which will allow you to create and save lists. You can do an advanced search that will allow you to specify a keyword, age range, reading levels, even bindings. For most titles they have all major reviews (School Library Journal, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, etc.). I just did a quick search on bullying for middle grades, and 79 titles came up.

  4. Beverly says

    I read 13 Reasons Why a couple of years ago. I mentioned to a teacher friend of mine that it should be required reading for all middle school kids. It was absolutely one of the best books I read that year.

  5. Molly says

    I just finished 13 reasons why. There IS some sexual content. Not a lot, but it’s there, and it’s dark. I’m not sure whether that makes it inappropriate/appropriate for certain groups, but wanted to clarify for those who care.

  6. says

    There’s another book that doesn’t appear on any of those lists but which I recommend. It’s called “Schooled,” and it’s by Gordon Korman. My son adored it.

    • Karen says

      My daughter and I both really like Schooled. I haven’t looked at the lists, but I’d recommend The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, which is fine for younger kids (not YA). It’s a good take on the bystander issue and has an interesting ending. It might not be as compelling for an 11-year-old boy, but it’s a very good book for a school library.

      • Karen says

        One more thought … I liked the cover and illustrations in Wonder, especially how each narrator only has one eye, as if they can only see (and tell) a part of the story.

        • says

          We have 100 Dresses! I’ve been trying to sell it to the younger kids, but no luck. The cover is a bit old. I need to see if I can find a trailer on Youtube.

  7. says

    I remember reading Blubber when I was a kid and not liking it because it made me feel bad about my weight when previously I did not think about it at all. So I decided to look up the synopsis to see whether it would jog a specific memory from the book. Nope. But good grief is that plot line caaaa-rrrrazy. I think I might have to revisit it with adult eyes.

  8. says

    I was quite chubby myself through most of elementary school but have fond memories of Blubber (probably because I was such a Blume fan, regardless). Also, not to sound like a total asswipe correcting you, but that’s totally the same cover of the book I owned in the ’70s.

    I’m a little stymied lately by the age-appropriate thing. My (mature, grounded) 12 year old was dying to read “The Fault In Our Stars,” and she whipped through it in a matter of a few hours — but OH! Quite a lot of sex talk throughout, which I found out after picking it up and browsing through. (And cursing too, which bothers me a bit less.) On the other hand (and back to Judy Blume) I read “Forever” in 5th grade. So. No answers.

    • says

      70s! Well, there you go. I graduated 8th grade in ’86, so–surprise of all suprises!–our school library carried an older edition. Though, since we still have that same book, it was practically brand-spanking new by comparison.

      Every single girl in 7th grade has read The Fault in Our Stars. I really don’t know how to determine what is appropriate.

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