Published in 1857, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, a novel about Rugby School, has a famous bully, Flashman, who tyrannizes the younger boys. Eventually Tom, and his friend East, come to blows with Flashman with the result that he ‘never laid a finger on either of them again’. The novel contains many other instances of bullying. Tom advises a new boy, Arthur, on how best to protect himself from it: ‘You must answer straight up when the fellows speak to you and don’t be afraid. If you’re afraid, you’ll get bullied. And don’t say you can sing and don’t you ever talk about home, or your mother or sisters … or they’ll call you home-sick, or mamma’s darling, or some such stuff.’
Plus ça change … In 1996 Childline (the children’s helpline) researchers conducted a survey of bullying in schools and found that ‘bullying in schools is commonplace, even in schools with anti-bullying policies in place: 64% of primary school children and 45% of secondary children (38% of boys and 52% of girls) said they had been bullied at some point in their schools. Half (50%) of the primary school children and more than one in four (27%) of the secondary children responding said they had been bullied in the last year.’
For some children bullying can be a shortlived, if unpleasant incident; for others it can be a longterm nightmare of persecution which impacts profoundly on the child’s ability to trust and to form relationships in later life. Children who bully also need help to find other ways to cope with the painful feelings that they project in others.
In the last few years, children’s writers have been responding to the bullying problem creatively with a wealth of titles for children of all ages on the theme of bullying. Using children’s books with bullying as a theme is a ‘safe’ and distanced way of approaching the issue of bullying and some schools have begun using books as part of their anti-bullying strategy.
In October BfK will be publishing a new guide, The Books for Keeps Guide to Children’s Books About Bullying. This extensively annotated bibliography – the first of its kind – lists the books (fiction, non-fiction, poetry and picture books) alongside articles on bullying and ideas for using the books in schools.
There has been an unprecedented level of interest in this forthcoming Books for Keeps Guide which is published in conjunction with the Reading and Language Centre, the University of Reading.