“How Kids Can Handle a Bully”: Um, Thanks, I Think, But Not Exactly . . .

I recently came across this mention in The Washington Post, under the title, “Two books about how kids can handle a bully“:

To learn more about bullies, read “10 Days to a Bully-Proof Child” by Sherryll Kraizer (DaCapo, $15) and give “Bystander” by James Preller (Feiwel & Friends, $17) to your daughter. This riveting young adult novel tells teenagers all they need to know about bullies and how they can handle them best.

I can’t speak for Ms. Kraizer’s book, which aims at “bully-proofing,” but my novel does nothing of the sort. It’s far from a how-to book, and it certainly does not provide easy answers. No disrespect, but I’m skeptical about the promise of “bully-proofing” anybody — maybe it’s just the term I don’t like, it feels too facile, too much like marketing. But to be clear: I recognize that it is important to provide realistic, practical strategies for adults and children to help curb bullying. Credit goes to Ms. Kraizer for contributing to the cause.

To read about this boy in

a 2008 NY Times article, click here.

Bystander — which works best, I think, for readers ages 10-14 — is a work of FICTION. Ms. Kraizer’s book is NONFICTION. We are using entirely different tools, each with its own strengths and limits. I’m not opposed to the pairing of our books in The Washington Post, just the sloppy “one size fits all” presentation, making a promise for my book that it can’t possibly fulfill.

I don’t believe it is in the fiction writer’s realm to “solve” problems. We are better at presenting them, hopefully providing insight, understanding, a little light. I hope that Bystander is a good conversation starter, and a dramatic way for readers to see themselves within the triad of bully/victim/bystander. But as a matter of fact, my impulse to write the novel was partly in reaction against all the books and movies I encountered that promised simple, unrealistic solutions to complex, knotty problems. There’s no magic fix. Rather than providing answers, I hope my book helps readers figure out some of the questions.

My middle son, Gavin, is just about to embark on his first year in middle school. It’s a time of great physical and emotional changes, complicated by the rising hegemony of peers: a difficult transition for any kid to navigate. I won’t pretend that any of this is clear-cut, or that any child’s identity can be neatly labeled, given the multitude of social roles he likely plays within a single day: athlete, student, son, pet-lover, bully, neighbor, victim, friend, brother, etc.  We’re all a burbling mixture of confidence and insecurity, strength and vulnerability, compassion and insensitivity, black and white and a whole lot of gray. It ain’t easy.

Back to the blurb: I was glad the writer found my book “riveting,” and yet also amused, because clearly he/she didn’t read the book. Can one be riveted by the smell of a book? The flap copy? The heft of it in one’s hand? Can a book look riveting?

Not that I’m complaining, but.

For parents and educators, I can strongly recommend two nonfiction books which helped in my research: The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander by Barbara Coloroso; and Perfect Targets: Asperger Syndrome and Bullying, by Rebekah Heinrichs. Despite Heinrichs’s focus on children with Aspergers, I found that the book’s themes and issues were universal.

One comment

  1. Connie says:

    Wow unbelievable article. I put my children first and would have moved but I also don’t know the reason Billy’s parents have for staying.

    Its also a shame the parents of the boys doing the bullying don’t seem to care. Maybe if the courts can hurt these parents in the pocketbook they will step up and parent their children better. – unfortunately it just shows how many adults don’t care about what their children are doing anymore but I see that everyday in school.

    I’m very interested now in your book Bystander but Six Innings is still the one we (me and the younger boys) want to read first.

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