Friday, November 10, 2017

Bullying Happens!

I've been thinking about bullying these days. There are too many news stories of people in power and their bullying ways. It would be nice if this was never an issue in faith communities or religious schools, but it is. We are comfortable talking about the importance of hospitality, but addressing dysfunctional power dynamics is more difficult and perhaps more important. Picture books are a great tool for difficult subjects. Yes, bullying happens, even among those who talk a lot about God, but what better place to explore the idea that we are all equally God's beloved children, even the bullies.
Picture Book: The Recess Queen
Author: Alexis O’Neill
Illustrator: Laura Huliska-Beith
Summary:  The title character in this original take on bullying is Mean Jean. No one gets to swing or kick or bounce until after Mean Jean. 
If anyone tries, she gets physical. Mean Jean growls 
and howls when there are complaints.
Then new student teeny, tiny Katie Sue arrives. 
No one warns Katie Sue about Mean Jean so Katie Sue swings, kicks, and jumps with abandon. 
The other kids are amazed! Mean Jean is furious. She charges through the playground, grabs Katie Sue, and explains her rules. 
 
What does Katie Sue do? She talks back! "How did you get so bossy?" Then she continues her play. 
Mean Jean becomes even more furious and chases after Katie Sue. The children continue to be riveted. 
Then Katie Sue pulls out of her backpack a jump rope and invites Jean to play. 
Jean is as shocked as the rest of the children. No one has ever dared ask Jean to play! 
 
So Katie Sue jumps while rhyming more invitations:
I like popcorn,
I like tea,
I want Jean 
to jump with me! (She doesn't call her Mean Jean.)
When a bystander encourages Jean to jump in, she does. 
Fearless jumping and giggling ensue. 
That encounter makes all the difference for the whole community. The playground is a fun place for everyone. 
Hanna’s Comments: I like this book because the author has great fun with words (my summary above doesn't do it justice):
If kids ever crossed her,
she'd push 'em and smoosh 'em
Lollapaloosh ‘em, 
hammer’em, slammer ‘em, 
kitz and kajammer ‘em. 
This keeps the tone light so you can tip toe into the deep of this serious subject. This book resolves the issue of bullying with such joy that I think your audience won't mind talking about it. Ignoring a difficult subject and dysfunctional dynamics in a faith community can not only do harm but turn individuals against religion and even faith for the rest of their lives. A community that touts God’s love can’t afford to hide hate or cruelty. In 2014 at PBT, I featured a series of books about bullying which were mostly dark. Check out the first in the series [here]. In contrast, The Recess Queen is fun and still gets to the heart of the issue, resolving the problem with kindness and hospitality. 
Original Publisher & Date: Scholastic, 2002
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Because of so many bystanders in this story, highlight the concept of witness with verses such as "Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works..." (Matthew 5:16).  There is obvious application here for The Great Commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31) 
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children in your faith community if you have a bully or bully victims. This book or other books about bullying can also be great tools for preventing bullying problems.