Friday, October 7, 2011

Sincerely, Not a Victim

Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories
Were you the bully? The victim? Or somewhere in between? Maybe you were more than one through your childhood. Whatever mold you fit into, I am sure you have been a part of bullying from one angle or another throughout your life. As a teacher or parent, you have probably had to witness it. You have tried to stop it, but felt powerless in the face of the beast that has consumed childhoods and ended some. Sure, you can stop what you see in front of you, but the bullying is everywhere, like an omniscient, suffocating monster that is impervious to your efforts. That is why Dear Bully was published.

Dear Bully is a compilation of short essays from 70 authors. These are authors our children have read, and maybe we have read as well. These are adults who write for our children every day, so who better to talk to them about bullying? The stories these adults shared were ones of anger, of survival, and of shame. Some were the victims, the bystanders, or the bullies themselves. This is an amazing compilation of stories that dissect the bullying phenomenon from the inside out. But most importantly, they speak to kids today.

The stories aren't written for parents or teachers. They are written directly for the children surviving in the terrifying jungle that high school has become. Some are stories of triumph while others show pure survival. Either way, bullying is serious, it can kill you, but you don't have to give in to it. Some are funny, some are terrifying. R.L. Stine's story of how coincidence combined with his wise-guy big mouth got him bullied reminded me of why I loved his books as a young adult. He added humor to his story and showed how quick wit can get you into trouble and out of it with quite a flair!

The most touching stories for me were those of the bystanders, the kids who did nothing to stop the bullying or went along with it for fear of being the next target. In my senior literature class this term we have been talking at length about a three character play called Death and the Maiden where the characters represent the victim, the perpetrator, and the bystander. Victims and perpetrators are fairly straight forward, but the bystander is a fuzzy gray area. Sometimes they are guilty, sometimes they are innocent, but one thing follows them and even haunts them- the failure to do anything to stop the hurt of the victim. This is a group my kids and I struggled to define because they are so different. One thing they have in common, though, is that shame of not trying to stop it.

When we are young, we barely know who we are yet. Who are we kidding, I am 30 and I barely know! So how do we empower kids to stand up, stop the bullying, and free themselves from the shame of being a bystander? How do we let kids know that there are people out there to talk to, people who can save them? This book is a huge start. I loved the fact that the stories ranged across the bullying spectrum, but my one criticism is that the stories are predominantly from the female perspective. There are a few male authors, but mostly women contributed their stories. i wish it was more even across genders, but I still love what this book contains. It holds hope. Page after page, from cover to cover, you see hope. This is a message we can't prevent our children from hearing.

The stories themselves are very short- the longest is about 5 pages long. This is great for a student who has a short attention span or struggles with comprehension in a full-length novel. The short snippets are independent and can therefore be used as excellent comprehension checks by themselves without a need to remember everything that came before it. The wide mix of stories is also great to reach many different kinds of children. And if they aren't into a particular story? Skip it! This is an amazing book that should have a home in every classroom, library or home with children. Spread the message:

"Dear Bully, You think you can beat me. But I disagree. Sincerely, Not a Victim"

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