Bullying

Bullying and aggression can be part of any child’s experience, even in primary school. Fortunately, there are great picture book resources to help families talk about bullying at home. Caregivers may also wish to explore our pages on Emotions and the links at the end of this page to Australian websites about bullying.

Are these your glasses?

Gavin McCormack (author) and Jennifer Cooper (illustrator)

ISBN: 9781876138462
Pademelon Press: 2016
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A young Adélie penguin who lives with his dad in Antarctica is excluded by the other penguins at school. One day he hears a girl penguin being bullied; when the bullies disband, he picks up her broken glasses and offers her a tissue. The young penguin tells his father about his experience and his dad encourages the son’s act of kindness. Years later, when the young penguin must look for a wife, he is excluded by his peers again as they walk to the mating ground. He cannot find a suitably shiny stone to impress the girl penguins but then his childhood act of kindness recommends him to one girl in particular.

This is an earnest exploration of bullying that is intended as a teaching tool (see the author’s note at the end of the book). It touches upon different types of bullying (exclusion and active teasing) and also what witnesses of bullying can do to help, so may help parents with a variety of concerns. The use of Adélie penguin mating habits to scaffold the bullying message produces an interesting story to engage young minds curious about the natural world. It also provides opportunities for the artist to explore emotions through the use of colour in the Australis Arborealis depicted in the sky throughout the young penguin’s journey in search of a mate.

There is a free set of resources for parents and teachers, though their focus is not bullying per se: www.aretheseyourglasses.com

Beulah the Anxious Bully

Marilyn Campbell PhD (author) Melissa Bates (illustrator)
Post Pressed: 2006
ISBN: 1 876920 02 5

Age: 5+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Beulah is an 8-year-old girl who has been told she is a bully by her teacher. She often acts aggressively with other children and gets into trouble but doesn’t understand why. When Beulah is sent to the pre-school, she begins to trust the kind preschool teacher Mrs Snooks, who asks her questions and talks to her parents about helping Beulah figure things out.

This book focuses on a particular kind of bullying that stems from anxiety and is told from the bully’s perspective. It gives specific examples of physical bullying, such as hitting. It also explores the bully’s feelings of confusion, sadness and fear. The illustrations are bright, patterned, even a little chaotic—great for exploring and discussing the kinds of strong emotions discussed in the story. Written by an early childhood specialist, the final pages of the book include notes for parents and teachers as well as some classroom activity ideas.

Beulah the Anxious Bully is part of a series (Worry Busters) that can be ordered online.  

Felix Stands Tall

Rosemary Wells
Candlewick Press:  2015
ISBN: 9780763661113

Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

When Felix the guinea pig is befriended by Fiona she quickly recruits him to sing and dance at an upcoming talent show. Felix seems unsure, but his objections are overridden by his new friend. Despite great success at the talent show several guinea pigs start to tease Felix. Mum tells Felix to ‘stand tall’ but he doesn’t know how. Luckily, Fiona knows just what to do.

Felix Stands Tall is a subtle and hilarious story. Rosemary Wells skilfully compares and contrasts the somewhat overbearing Fiona with more familiar bullying types in text and illustrations. Facial expressions, gestures and dialogue help readers explore how different forms of bullying look and what they sound like too. While standing tall may not always be possible with a traditional bully who teases, excludes ,or physically attacks, it should be possible with any friend worth keeping. And Fiona is a keeper.

Felix Stands Tall is a clever story and one which can be used to explore bullying as well as true friendship.

Harrison’s Song

Harrison Craig (author) and Ann-Marie Finn (illustrator)
Wombat Books: 2017
ISBN: 9781925563115

Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Harrison is just like every other kid but when he speaks, he stutters. Some kids won’t talk to him because of his stutter, others don’t understand him, or even tease him. When his music teacher asks Harrison a question, to which he knows the answer but can’t respond, Harrison decides he doesn’t want to talk anymore; he doesn’t even want to sing even though it is one of his favourite things to do. Harrison’s Mum encourages him to keep singing and it is through song that Harrison finds his voice.

Written by Harrison Craig, winner of The Voice singing competition in 2013, this true story is an inspirational one at core, encouraging kids to believe in themselves and overcome bullying through pursuing their own passions. There is a trusted parent who plays a key role in supporting Harrison and his interest in singing. The bullying that takes place is mentioned rather than described and centres on Harrison’s stuttering, but may well have broader resonances for children experiencing bullying about some aspect of perceived difference. The illustrations—cartoon-style and concentrated on the human characters, are well suited to exploring the dynamics of bullying and the feelings associated with it.

Invisible Jerry

Adam Wallace (author) and Giuseppe Poli (illustrator)
EK Books: 2018
ISBN: 9781925335781

Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

People don’t notice Jerry. They don’t laugh at his jokes. They don’t pick him for the sports team. Until Molly comes along. She makes Jerry feel visible. But then there’s also invisible Paul…

This is a superb book for talking to kids about a subtle type of bullying—exclusion—and about friendship too. It doesn’t dwell on the experience of bullying, but does make its impact felt, especially through the use of colour, shadow and perspective in the illustrations. The section of the story dealing with Molly portrays friendship succinctly but thoughtfully—Molly asks what Jerry thinks, she shares ideas with him. The plot also has a great twist at the end with the introduction of Paul. This twist provides ample opportunity for parents to stress the idea that lots of kids experience exclusion, moreover, it encourages kids to be active in making new friends and to consider what their peers might be experiencing.  

Mad Magpie

Gregg Dreise
Magabala Books: 2016
ISBN: 9781925360066
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Guluu is an angry Magpie who swoops on other birds. When the elders ask why he does this, Guluu explains that he is angry because the butcher birds tease him. The elders encourage Guluu to ignore the butcher birds, to stay calm on the outside and strong on the inside. Guluu considers their advice and tries it out with mixed results at first. When he returns to the elders he receives further encouragement and advice. Eventually, Guluu ignores the bullies by removing himself and by rediscovering his love of song.

Mad Magpie has won multiple awards and it is easy to see why. Set in the Dream Time ‘way back before once-upon-a-time time’, it combines an authoritative timeless mood with a modern message that addresses bullying explicitly and in terms school children will recognise. There are a few aspects to the story which make it a unique and particularly useful tool with which to raise and discuss bullying with young children—these include but are not limited to the strong and encouraging presence of adults who help address problems, the relatively gradual way in which the bullying situation is resolved, and the statements at the end about creating a ‘happy mood’ and ‘working together’ to stop bullying. The latter especially puts the burden of resolving issues of bullying on the community, rather than individuals. The character of Guluu may also provide a relatable figure for children who are both victims and perpetrators of bullying.  While the victims of Guluu’s anger are not discussed directly, Guluu’s emotions are a focal point and rendered expressively through his imposing image and especially his eyes, which change over the course of the story.

Mud Boy

Sarah Siggs (author) Amy Crosby (illustrator) with notes by Pooky Knightsmith
Jessica Kingsley Publishers: 2019
ISBN: 9781785928703
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Sam is happy at home and at school until one day a girl in the playground starts to throw mud words at him. At first the mud doesn’t stick but when other kids start throwing mud words too, Sam is covered in mud from head to toe and needs help to clean it all off.

Mud Boy is a powerful story that engages creatively with the traditional saying ‘mud sticks’. It explores the serious emotional impact of teasing, stresses the importance of confiding in trusted adults, and also draws attention to the way bullying causes damage over time; Sam tries to shake off the mud words and laugh at what is happening but that doesn’t fix the problem—in fact it gets worse. The resolution of the story not only sees Sam gain the help of his family and teacher but also notice other kids who are experiencing bullying. Mud Boy touches on many areas of advice that modern education on bullying stresses and with a metaphor for bullying (mud-words) that sticks in the memory.

The artwork for Mud Boy is striking. Crosby uses a limited palate—primarily browns, greys and green—for the school yard bullying scenes. These colours capture the institutional nature of schools (green is used for the uniforms) and also highlight the mud-words, which appear as sticky brown mud and contrast with the broader range of colours used to convey Sam’s happy life before and after the period of bullying.  

Lastly, make sure you read the notes for adults by Pooky Knightsmith (mental health adviser). These notes contain practical advice for reading the book with children and encouraging them to consider and engage with the issues raised by the story.

The Eagle Inside

Jack Manning Bancroft
Bronwyn Bancroft
Little Hare, 2015
ISBN: 9781742974699
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

It’s Jimmy the honeyeater’s first day at flying school. As soon as he arrives Cockatoo and his mates begin to tease him. Jimmy starts to lose confidence until the biggest bird of all helps Jimmy find his inner eagle.

The Eagle Inside is an inspiring story about finding your inner strength and confidence. It is exquisitely illustrated with richly patterned and stylised pictures that depict the world of the flight school in great detail and from many perspectives. The illustrations provide opportunities to talk to young readers about the dynamics of bullying (e.g. intimidation, being inside and outside of a group), but undoubtedly the map-like illustrations of the obstacle courses at the flight school will delight young readers with their schematic almost video game-like detail.

The Eagle Inside is not a didactic book about bullying but therein lies its strength; it’s a great story with a novel set of characters that nevertheless depicts verbal and mild physical bullying as well its effect on self-esteem. It also stresses the role of an esteemed individual in moderating bullying behaviour by standing up for those being verbally and/or physically attacked or excluded. Make sure you read the dedication to young readers for some inspirational words from the author!

For more information about bullying and how parents can help their kids see the following websites: the bully project, bullying no way, kids helpline (Australia).

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