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Addressing Name Calling Through Children's Books

Name calling does so much damage. It leads to hurt feelings, broken friendships, anger, and even war. The best way to address name calling is to develop our children's empathy for those who are the victim and provide them with great examples.

The following picture books contain empathetic characters and many examples of how to deal with name calling. Some are old classics and others are brand new. Although intended for young children, these books can be used with any age as a starting point for addressing name calling and bullying.

The Hundred DressesThe Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

Written in 1945, this Newberry Honor book has stood the test of time and . When a new Polish girl arrives at school and wears the same dress everyday, she is made fun of and called names. The main character Maddie feels bad but says nothing. When the new girl moves away because of the name calling, Maddie is left with a life-long of regret that she had not stood up to her peers.

Discussion questions for The Hundred Dresses

  1. Why did they call the new girl names?
  2. Is what a person wears important?
  3. Why did the family move away ? What would you do if someone made fun of your clothes?
  4. Have you ever hurt someone and regretted it?

Blue Cheese Breath and Stinky FeetBlue Cheese Breath by Catherine DePino

Steve is being called names by the class bully Gus. Steve's parents help him come up with a plan to deal with Gus and then have him practice carrying it out. The bully is in for a big surprise.

The book covers the strategies of avoidance, ignoring, staying with friends, using power words, not looking down or away, making short statements and not asking questions, being loud to attract attention, calling the bully by name, and getting help if needed.

Discussion Questions for Blue Cheese Breath and Stinky Feet

  1. How would you feel if you were called the names Gus called Steve?
  2. How does Steve describe his feelings? Do you think he is annoyed? Angry? Frightened?
  3. How does his posture show how he is feeling? Why is it important to act strong?
  4. Why is it hard for Steve to tell his teacher and parents about Gus's name calling?
  5.  What strategies does Steve learn? Have you ever used any of these strategies?
  6.  Have you read other books in which a character used one of these strategies?

 Crow BoyCrow Boy by Taro Yashima

This book won the Caldecott award in 1976. Set in rural Japan, it tells the story of a village boy who is made fun of by his classmates because he is terribly shy. It takes a wise teacher to show the other children how to appreciate and value difference and how to notice when someone is hurting. The message is powerful and as relevant to today's children as it was when it was written.

Discussion Questions for Crow Boy

  1. What makes Crow Boy different?
  2. Why does he daydream? Have you ever daydreamed when you should have been listening and working?
  3. Do you have a nickname? Do you like it? When would a nickname be a good idea? When would a nickname be hurtful?
  4. Are there different ways to be smart?
  5. Do you think something like this could happen at your school?

 Giraffes Can't DanceGiraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae

In this simple rhyming story, a giraffe wants to dance, but his legs are too wobbly and his neck too long to do the same dances the other animals do. The other animals tease him and call him names. But then Gerald finds the right music, and invents his own way of dancing, impressing them all.

Discussion Questions for Giraffes Can't Dance

  1. How does Gerald feel when he is made fun of because he can't move the same way the other animals do?
  2. Have you ever been made fun of because you couldn't do something? How did you feel?
  3. Does everybody have to do the same thing in the same way?
  4. What do the other animals learn?
  5. What is the moral of this story?

The Hating BookThe Hating Book by Charlotte Zolotow

Probably the worst thing one child can say to another is "I hate you." In fact, the expression is so cruel and hurtful that some librarians substitute the word angry or mad instead of hate when they read it aloud.

In this short 1969 picture book for preschool through second grade, a young girl thinks her friend hates her so she hates her back. When she finally asks her friend why she is being mean to her, she learns that there has been a simple misunderstanding. This is great book for introducing the idea that we need to ask people why they are doing the things they are instead of just imagining their motives.

Discussion Questions for The Hating Book

  1. Have you ever been left out by a friend or made fun of by a friend or had a friend keep a secret? Where you ever not chosen to be on a team? Did you feel really really angry at that friend?
  2. What caused the girls in this story to have a problem?
  3. What advice did the mother give?
  4.  Why is it important to talk things over when you have a problem with someone?
  5. Why should we use "I" statements instead of "You" statements when talking about our feelings?

Never Say a Mean Word Again
Never Say a Mean Word Again by Jacqueline Jules and Durga Yael Bernhard

In this tale from medieval Spain, the grand vizier's son is called names by the tax collector's son after he accidentally bumps into him. His father tells his son to make sure Hanza never calls him a name again.  All the vizier's grand plans fail, but as they interact together they become friends. The story teaches that sometimes the best way to deal with an enemy is to befriend them and the point is made stronger by the fact that one boy is Muslim and the other Jewish.

Discussion Questions for Never Say a Mean Word Again

  1. Have you ever accidentally done something that made someone else call you a name?
  2. How did you feel? What did you do?
  3. Why did the boy's father ask him to make sure the other boy never called him a name again?
  4. Why did the boys become friends at the end?

 Oliver Button is a SissyOliver Button is a Sissy by Tommie dePaola

In this simple story, a boy who enjoys reading and painting, tap dancing and playing with dolls is made fun of by his friends and by adults. But he doesn't let it get him down, instead he enters the local talents show and even though he doesn't win, his perseverance and accomplishment change the view of his friends and the adults.

Discussion Questions for Oliver Button is a Sissy

  1. How do the pictures show what Oliver is feeling?
  2. How did people treat Oliver?
  3. How were people hurtful? How were people helpful?
  4. How did Oliver deal with being bullied? What anti-bullying strategies did he use?
  5. How do Oliver's feelings about dancing change from the beginning of the story to the end of story.

 Simon's HookSimon's Hook by Karen Gedig Burnett

This book is about what to do when you are teased and when others put you down. The main character is having a bad hair day that draws insults and name calling from his peers. His grandmother uses a parable about fish and hooks to teach him to deal with the hurtful words and name calling by using his own power - the power to control how he reacts.

Discussion Questions for Simon's Hook

  1. Have you ever been teased or called names? How did it make you feel?
  2. Why was Simon having a bad day?
  3. What advice is he given to deal with the name calling?
  4. Do you think controlling your own reaction is a good strategy? Have you ever used it? What happened?
  5. What other anti-bullying strategies could he have used?

Have you ever been called a name?

We welcome your thoughts and comments.

 

Teach Peace Now
Teach Peace Now
We offer books, activities, lesson plans, and ideas that teachers, parents, and students can use to promote values, attitudes and behaviors which encourage non-violent resolution of conflict, respect for human rights, democracy, intercultural understanding and tolerance.

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