If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I strongly believe that exposing your child to a wide variety of reading material is essential to the development of morals, values, critical thinking skills, and cultural understanding. It's the one way children can learn about themselves, others, and the world around them without leaving their homes, other than talking about current events with their families, teachers, and peers.
Well, after half of my religion class argued that they didn't see any point in reading anything other than Facebook last year, and seeing how children interact these days, I'm pretty sure that a large percentage of students are not reading books other than the ones assigned in class. And according to a 2007 Boston.com article, even college students and grads are not reading nearly as much for pleasure either.
Is it more likely that people who don't read will become bullies? Will reading prevent people from exhibiting this kind of behavior? I have no statistics to share. It would be hard to quantify.
Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts. So, after reading The Book Chook's Say NO to Bullying post (thank you, Susan), I decided to share some additional picture and chapter books relating to the subject.
One of my favorite picture/chapter books of all time is The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes. I read this book with a 4th grade class when I student taught. It's a Newbery Honor book, and one that you must get your hands on if you haven't already. It's most appropriate for children between the ages of 8 and 12, but older students and adults would certainly benefit from reading it as well.
I'm not even going to tell you what it's about. All you need to know is it got an entire class of children reading, thinking, and relating to the characters. It opened up a wide window of discussion and journal writing. They each could see themselves in at least one of the book's characters. It is my hope that they'll carry that book with them for their entire lives, and I have no doubt that some of them will.
Bystander, by James Preller, is about a new boy in town who watches as a bully does his dirty work. Like most children his age, he feels powerless to stop it. But gradually, his courage develops. It's a fast-paced book, and the ending is realistic. It's a great conversation starter for families.
Schooled, by Gordon Korman, is about an extremely isolated homeschooler who plunges into the harsh world of public middle school. While many homeschooling parents may not appreciate the unfortunate and completely inaccurate stereotype, the whole idea of a student entering school without having been exposed to advanced technology (even television) is one which will provoke much thought about the importance of individuality in a conforming society.
I previewed another selection, and since it deals with more mature concepts, I decided to hold off on letting my son read it until he's between the ages of 14 to 16:
Shattering Glass, by Gail Giles, is the story of a group of popular high school students who toy with each other and those around them. One character is the leader of the pack, and things get progressively worse, as various characters react, conform, try to control, and fight for power. All along, you know that something terrible is going to happen in the end because each chapter begins with a mysterious quote about the event from one of the characters. It builds suspense, and when I was done, I actually wanted to go back and reread it in order to piece together the quotes.
With all of the high school tragedies which have taken place in recent years, this book opens up a window of discussion for families in so many ways. It's worth reading together, if your teenager is willing to do so. If not, there's plenty for your adolescent to think about on her own.
Many of us are so busy that we breathe a sigh of relief when our children can finally read on their own. We expect them to keep the process going without any help. As a result, many of them end up only reading what's assigned at school, and may never view reading as pleasurable independent activity.
If we provide gentle encouragement, read in front of our children often, and visit the library and book store together on a regular basis, we are giving them a gift for life. Like I stated earlier, I have no direct proof that reading will prevent your child from conforming or resorting to bully-type behavior. But doesn't it make sense that when people identify with different book characters (especially those who are going through similar real life situations), they'll be more comfortable in their own skin and be able to make wiser choices?
What do you think? Can reading books prevent bullying? And if not, what can?
Here are some related posts you might be interested in: