Revisiting Texts that Address Bullying

About a year ago I wrote a post about picture books that address bullying, an important topic in school communities today. This summer I am enrolled in a class on Contemporary Adolescent Literature. One of the books we were assigned to read is Please Stop Laughing at Me by Jodee Blanco. I found this to be a powerful text about Jodee’s firsthand experience with bullying from her last years of elementary school through high school. Though it is a text that one might consider using with high-school-aged children, the content and level of physical, verbal and emotional bullying Jodee experiences make this not a suitable text for a younger audience.

Our course instructor then recommended All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury. This is a short story about a group of children in a school on Venus. It had been raining on Venus for seven years straight and according to scientists the sun was coming out that day. Among this group of 9 year olds is Margot. She stands apart from the children. Margot is different from the other kids, she was born on Earth.

The narrator describes Margot in the lines, “She was different and they knew her difference and kept away. There was talk that her father and mother were taking her back to Earth next year; it seemed vital to her that they do so, though it would mean the loss of thousands of dollars to her family. And so, the children hated her for all these reasons of big and little consequence. They hated her pale snow face, her waiting silence, her thinness, and her possible future.” The children in this story torment Margot and there is evidence of physical, verbal and social bullying. They end up locking her in the closet and forgetting her there when suddenly the sun comes up and they all run outside. When the children return to the classroom, saddened that the sun has vanished and will not reappear for another seven years, they realize that Margot was still trapped in the closet. Bradbury slows down this part of the scene in the passage,

They stood as if someone had driven them, like so many stakes, into the floor. They looked at each other and then looked away. They glanced out at the world that was raining now and raining and raining steadily. They could not meet each other’s glances. Their faces were solemn and pale. They looked at their hands and feet, their faces down.

Then the story ends with the children unlocking the door and Margot emerging.

In addition to being a story about bullying, this is a tale about jealousy and difference. I would definitely use this short story in my class to engage students in a conversation about bullying and the treatment of others. The ending of the story sets readers up for a conversation about the actions of Margot’s classmates and their repercussions. Students can be asked to consider how the children in the story feel when they realize Margot was trapped in the closet and how this experience may or may not impact their treatment of her in the future. In addition, they can be asked to consider how Margot feels at the end of the story.

This is an important text that challenges students to consider their actions and the way they engage with their peers.

How do you introduce the issue of bullying in your classrooms? Do you use texts to engage students in discussions about bullying and its consequences? If so, which ones?