Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review: Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: September 1st, 2011

You are not alone.

Discover how Lauren Kate transformed the feeling of that one mean girl getting under her skin into her first novel, how Lauren Oliver learned to celebrate ambiguity in her classmates and in herself, and how R.L. Stine turned being the “funny guy” into the best defense against the bullies in his class.

Today’s top authors for teens come together to share their stories about bullying—as silent observers on the sidelines of high school, as victims, and as perpetrators—in a collection at turns moving and self-effacing, but always deeply personal.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Authors:  Ellen Hopkins (Foreword), Megan Kelley Hall, Carrie Jones, Claudia Gabel, Courtney Sheinmel, Crissa-Jean Chappell, Cyn Balog, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Daniel Waters, Dawn Metcalf, Debbie Rigaud, Deborah Kerbel, Diana Rodriguez Wallach, A.S. King, Eric Luper, Erin Dionne, Alyson Noel, Amy Goldman Koss, Amy Reed, Aprilynne Pike, Carolyn Mackler, Carrie Ryan, Cecil Castellucci, Heather Brewer, Holly Cupula, Janni Lee Simner, Jeannine Garsee, Jessica Brody, Jo Knowles, Jocelyn Maeve Kelley, Jon Scieszka, Kieran Scott, Kiersten White, Kristin Harmel, Kurtis Scaletta, Lara Zeises, Laura Kasischke, Lauren Kate, Lauren Oliver, Linda Gerber, Lisa McMann, Lisa Schroeder, Lisa Yee, Lucienne Diver, Marina Cohen, Marlene Perez, Maryrose Wood, Megan McCafferty, R.L. Stine, Melissa Schorr, Laurie Faria Stolarz, Melissa Walker, Melodye Shore, Michelle Zink, Micol Ostow, Mo Willems, Nancy Holder, Nancy Werlin, R.A. Nelson, Sara Bennett Wealer, Saundra Mitchell, Rachel Vail, Nancy Garden, Sophie Jordan, Stephanie Kuehnert, Steven Wedel, Tanya Lee Stone, Teri Brown, Tonya Hurley

The above authors and the publisher, HarperTeen, deserve our thanks for this book... Every person who has anything to do with kids- parents, teachers, administrators, coaches, other kids- needs to read this book!  This book is so eye-opening on so many levels that it is difficult for me to put into words how important it is.  A group of letters and short stories, written by 70 of the most influential Kid and YA authors of today, it addresses the impact bullying can have on a person, short-term and long-term.  A book like this truly has the power to change the way people think.  It certainly changed the way I do.  Rather than writing a traditional review, I am going to tell you what each group of people stand to gain from reading this.

Kids and Teens~ Kids look up to these authors and I believe that by reading their stories, they can be empowered and changed.  The ones who are the targets of bullies will read these stories and realize two things.  First, that they are not alone, which is so important when they are dealing with something that makes them feel that they are alone in every way.  Second, they see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel; look at all these people who were in their very same place during their school years, and look where they are now.  Successful, influential, and secure in their place in this world.  For the kids who are the bullies, they get a glimpse of how harmful their words and actions actually are.  Perhaps they get to see that what they have always seen as harmless fun and jokes is actually very hurtful to their target; something that while for them is forgotten the next moment, may stay with that other person for their entire life, like a wound that won't heal.  Finally for the silent onlookers, the ones that aren't targets or bullies, but see it every day and don't speak up to stop it.  Maybe after reading this book, they will realize how important it is for them to do something, say something, be the one to stand up for what's right.  Without onlookers who are willing to speak up, it will never stop.

Parents~ I'm a parent and I know I have been guilty of saying things like, "Ignore them and they will stop" and "Sticks and stones...", regurgitating the same things I heard from my parents and teachers.  This book opened my eyes to what I already knew if I had stopped to think about it.  I would rather have someone beat the crap out of me than have them verbally abuse me; bruises and scrapes heal, but hurtful words have real and long-lasting power.  Bullies don't stop when you ignore them.  That's a total myth.  As a parent, having read this book, I know that if my children are being bullied, I should do whatever I need to do to make it stop; I need to be their advocate, but more importantly, I need to to emotionally support them and let them know that I understand how hard it is.  I know that I should never, ever blow bullying off as a normal part of growing up, because it shouldn't have to be.  I'm also not afraid to call my child out if she is being a bully.  I made my 10 year old read this book when I caught her being a bully and saw a big change in the way she treats other kids as result.

Teachers/Administrators~ These people need to stop turning a blind eye to it.  I'm so sick of "Zero Tolerance" bullying policies at schools.  They are such a joke because they are not enforced, and when they are they are done in a way that just drives the behavior deeper underground.  I'm not naive, I know that as long as kids are kids, bullying will happen, but it is so much more vicious today than ever before and it is time the adults make a valiant effort to curb it.  Every time I'm at my kids' elementary schools, I see teachers socializing with one another during recess.  They make sure the kids don't leave with any physical injuries (most of the time), but they really aren't paying attention to emotional damage that kids are inflicting on one another.  Most bullies are sly and know better than to to be loud about it, so if the teachers aren't paying close attention, they never know.  Administrators need to make sure the teachers are on top of it, and when there is a complaint, it needs to be taken seriously.  It is their job to protect our children while they are in their care, and they need to be held to it.  There are so many stories in this book where the teachers and principals didn't take an incident seriously and the kid just gave up trying to get help.  That is unacceptable.

Coaches~ For many kids, the playing field is where a lot of bullying starts.  On kid's sports teams there is always a star and there is always the kid that just sucks.  I've had my kids on both ends of that; my girls are both excellent athletes, my son, not so much.  What astounded me most in his case was that it was often the parents of his teammates that would laugh at him or groan when he got up to bat, not the kids.  Coaches should be dealing with that type of behavior, not pretending that it's not happening.  My son does not play baseball anymore because of how those people made him feel and it's sad.  My oldest daughter, I am sorry to say, has been the bully on her softball team in the past.  She was the best player on the team, and she knew it, and was particularly hard on the less skilled girls.  In the end, it came down to me being the one to say that she couldn't play if it didn't stop because her coach was not going to bench his "A" pitcher over it.  If coaches didn't tolerate the behavior and benched the offenders, it wouldn't happen as much.  Perhaps reading a book like this would make them see that allowing this behavior is more harmful than they realize.  

It's time that people start taking a stand against bullying.  These brave authors dug deep into themselves, and dredged up some of their most painful and often embarrassing memories to raise awareness.  They should be applauded, and more importantly, thanked.  If this book changes the behavior of one bully, if it lets one victim know that it will end someday, if wakes one adult up to the fact that they need to be an advocate, if it makes one onlooker speak up, it has done its job.  Read this book, and then share it with someone else.  It's a "Must-Read" for everyone.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  Although a couple of the stories have some mature content, this book has such an important message that I say, the sooner the better.  The bullying has gotten worse over the years, with the introduction of social networking, and we have to do our best to stop it. My daughter is 10 years old and in 5th grade, and I MADE her read it.  If it had been out when she was in 3rd grade, I'd have had her read it then.  Because I feel that all parents, teachers, etc .need to read this, I would say that you (parent, teacher, librarian) should read it first and decide what grade level you find it to be most appropriate for.

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