by Jacqueline Woodson
illustrated by E.B. Lewis
I really liked this touching book by a Newbery Honor-winning author and a Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator. Unlike the other children's books I read to the kids that led to discussions of bullying, this story doesn't have a nice, tidy, all-is-well-now-and-everyone-lives-happily-ever-after ending, which is why I think its message is powerful: even small kindnesses matter, and the opportunity to extend kindness to a person and to alleviate their hurt can quickly be gone forever. My kids listened attentively to the story, but didn't want to read the book again because it "was sad." Regardless, I think it was important to read the story to them because in real life our actions and inactions sometimes result in an unhappy ending. In this story, Chloe and her classmates continually ignore, exclude, reject, whisper about and laugh at a new classmate, Maya, despite Maya's repeated attempts to befriend them. They call Maya "Never New" because of her secondhand clothes. Eventually Maya stops coming to school, and never returns. As the jacket cover states, "When Chloe's teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the opportunity that's been lost. How much better could it have been if she'd just shown Maya a little kindness and opened her heart to friendship?"
by Trudy Ludwig
illustrated by Patrice Barton
This was a enjoyable story that both the kids and I liked, with a message about how simple kindnesses and inclusion can make a big difference to someone who is left out. Brian is a quiet, yet imaginative boy who is overlooked and excluded - he is not invited to birthday parties, not included in games, overlooked by his teacher, and eats alone at lunch. Essentially, he is treated as though he is invisible, which the illustrations further emphasize by showing Brian as a colorless pencil drawing amid all the color around him. When a new kid, Justin, is teased at school, Brian extends him kindness. Justin responds by befriending and including Brian, and we begin to see color in the illustration of Brian. Justin's inclusion of Brian results in the larger group including Brian, and we finally see Brian in full color (i.e. no longer invisible).
by Maria Dismondy
illustrated by Kimberly Shaw-Peterson
Lucy's classmate Ralph repeatedly teases and embarrasses her about some of the things that make her unique - her hair and her food (one of her favorite sack lunches is spahgetti in a hot dog bun). Lucy doesn't want to be a tattletale, but doesn't know what to do. When her tormentor finds himself in a bad situation, Lucy has the opportunity to turn away but instead chooses to help him, and in doing so turns him into a friend. The story has some good lessons about kindness and empathy, even towards those who do not show us the same. However, I found the title a little misleading as I didn't see an obvious lesson about having the "courage to be who you are." I also don't think that the ending - with Ralph suddenly changing his ways because Lucy helped him - provides kids with a very realistic scenario of the way teasing and bullying works. Nevertheless, the book did serve as a jumping off point for further discussion.
by Kevin Henkes
Chysanthemum is a young mouse who loves her name and thinks it is absolutely perfect. At least, she loves it until she starts school and some of her classmates tease her about the length of her name and being named after a flower. Being cast as a daisy in the school play only encourages more laughter from Chrysanthemum's classmates. However, when the class discovers that their favorite teacher's first name is Delphinium - another long name of a flower - and that she thinks Chrysanthemum's name is absolutely perfect, they begin to wish they were named after flowers, and Chrysanthemum's confidence returns. This was a cute, enjoyable story which led to discussion about how important our names our to us and how it can feel when others make fun of our names.
by Karen Beaumont
illustrated by David Catrow
This is a story to encourage self-confidence and self-acceptance. The main character is a fun, quirky little girl who likes herself both inside and out, and wouldn't want to be anyone else. Regardless of what anyone else thinks of her, she likes herself in all her myriad possibilities because "I'M ME!" - wild or tame, with beaver teeth or messy hair or purple polka-dotted lips. My kids and I really liked the silly nature of the book and the fun illustrations, yet it also had some great lessons on self-worth, such as: "No matter if they stop and stare, no person ever anywhere can make me feel that what they see is all there really is to me."
by Patty Lovell
illustrated by David Catrow
This story has much the same feel as the book mentioned immediately above, I Like Myself. Undoubtedly, this is partly due to both books having the same illustrator, but the theme is also much the same, and we enjoyed this book as well. The jacket cover describes the story this way: "Molly Lou Melon is short and clumsy, has buck teeth, and has a voice that sounds like a bullfrog being squeezed by a boa constrictor. She doesn't mind. Her grandmother has always told her to walk proud, smile big, and sing loud, and she takes that advice to heart. But then Molly Lou has to start in a new school. A horrible bully picks on her on the very first day, but Molly Lou Melon knows just what to do about that."