Children's Toy & Media Reviews Since 1978

A Whisper to a Scream: Drawing the Line Between Teasing and Bullying

The nationwide problem of bullying has taken center stage, with public discussions, outreach programs and web site groups. We all seem to think we know bullying when we see it: the name calling, the physical altercations. But not all bullying is so obvious. Sometimes good natured teasing can quickly turn ugly and one person’s practical joke can turn into a very public humiliation.

Take Whitney Kropp of West Branch, Michigan. Recently, the high school sophomore was pleasantly surprised to learn that she was voted class representative to the homecoming court. Then she found out it was a cruel, practical joke. Whitney is not part of the in crowd. She doesn’t have fancy clothes and she isn’t popular. The self-described awkward teen has been bullied in the usual ways, but this “joke” was a devastating. Luckily, since the story made the news, others have shown support for the teen and she now plans to attend homecoming with her head held high. She even has her own social media support group.

Have you ever been a situation where teasing took an ugly turn? Do you and your family play practical jokes? How do you draw the line between good natured jokes and mean-spirited pranks?

Here are some resources for starting a conversation about bullying:

Preschool Through Elementary School

All About Bullies...Big and SmallAll About Bullies…Big and Small

It’s comforting music for children who are taunted for having to use wheel chairs, demonized for being fat, mocked for speaking with an accent, or who are simply not chosen first for a sports team. The songs, short stories, and poems may not cure the isolation and hurt, but tracks like “Labels” (“A label belongs on a jar full of pickles/They won’t go on me/ and I won’t let then stick”) can help. From the bully on the school bus (“Bully on the Bus Billy”), to the terrors of opening a newly “decorated” locker (“I Opened My Locker”) various travails are depicted. Songs reminding listeners to have “Courage”, and another titled “Until I Met Tim”, are a few examples of the lessons and inspiration for overcoming bullying. Each track is something to which we all should pay attention.

Hooway for Wodney WatHooway for Wodney Wat

A shy rodent turns his defect into strength to overcome class bully and save the day. Every page is a delight in this imaginative book, which culminates in surprising word play. Energetic illustrations capture perfectly the characters of timid Rodney, the overbearing Camilla Capybara, and their rowdy rodent classmates. Hooway!


Middle School


Kana is being sent into exile for the summer. So are all of her friends. Though few people are saying it aloud, adults and peers hold them at least partially responsible for the suicide of their classmate, who was ostracized and bullied by the clique’s queen bee. In the quiet and isolation of her grandmother’s mikan orange groves in rural Japan, Kana’s mother hopes she will reflect upon and recover from the shock. Of course, there are a few shocks to deal with in her grandmother’s house, too. For one thing, Kana isn’t accustomed to the physical labor of the mikan groves; for another, her grandmother is determined to starve her wide Russian hips, a legacy from her Jewish father, down to an acceptable Japanese size. Most importantly, Kana is lonely, and she can’t stop thinking about the suicide and her role in it.

Written in the form of fast-moving and accessible poetry, this verse novel provides an engaging response to the problems of bullying and adolescent mental illness. Kana is a reflective and often humorous narrator, and young readers will enjoy following her story as she adapts both to her mother’s family and to the burden of her memories.

Outside My DoorOutside My Door

Bullies often take advantage of insecurities kids already feel. Music that voices those insecurities and lets kids know they’re not alone is important. With rich jazz piano bounce and a brilliant use of vocabulary and wordplay reminiscent of Michael Franks, singer-songwriter-musician Lori Henriques performs cool, quirky and wise observational songs about growing pains and expanding horizons. Leaves fall, sometimes too soon, in “Green Leaf”. “Enough is Enough” laments over, “This overabundance of things/And all the discomfort it brings.” “Something You Learn” encourages curiosity and exploration even if “There’ll be days when you don’t want to listen/There’ll be chapters you can’t stand to read.” “If I Had a Twin” resonates with childhood’s wrenching moments of loneliness or misunderstanding: “If I had a twin there’d be/Someone in the skin I’m in/Could she understand me/Would she helping hand me?”. Henriques’ musical inventiveness and keen eye for life’s ups and downs are a stellar combination. Older children in particular will find much to relate to here.