How to Use Patricia Polocco’s Bully in the Classroom
Review by Adjunct Professor Kim Masturzo
Ohio Dominican University
Patricia Polacco’s books have always been a favorite of mine, but it wasn’t until I heard her speak at an elementary school, that I truly understood and appreciated the passion behind her stories. For those who are familiar with Polacco’s books know that she typically intertwines a personal or family story into her books. It usually not until the end that Polacco’s personal connection to the story is revealed. In my opinion, her personal connections add value and depth to her books. In Thank you Mr. Falker (2012), the story is about Trisha who is a struggling reader. Trisha moves to a new city and is hopeful that in this new school, no one will notice the academic difficulties that she faces on a daily basis. Unfortunately, despite the move to a new place, the kids indeed notice and she begins to be bullied. It takes a new and special teacher to discover Trisha’s disabilities and put an end to the bullying that she has been facing. At the end of the book, there is a personal note from Patricia Polacco, telling her readers that she was Trisha. She struggled with dyslexia until the age of 14. Thank you Mr. Falker became even more meaningful to me after reading the final page, where Patricia Polocco reveals that she was the main character in the story. Her personal journey and story is one that many children and adults connect with on a personal level.
Thank you Mr. Falker is just one example of how this author relates to her stories. What I found unique about Bully (2013), Polacco’s newest release, is that this book was not about her family or even a personal story, but it was inspired by her school visits and the number of stories she hears about the issue of bullying facing our youth today. In this book, she attempts to tackle the most common type of bullying kids are facing today, which is cyber bullying. It is a quite simple story that most middle school kids can relate to, but written with inspiring and moving illustrations that are typical for Polacco. On the cover of the book we see the facial expressions of the characters in the story. Behind the images, are negative words that display the type of cyber bullying messages that are often sent through social media. The words make a strong statement and set the tone for the serious nature of the story that is about to be told. The fact that this is a picture book is also appealing. Due to the serious nature of the story, the illustrations provide an additional dimension to the story. At the middle school level, we often forget to use picture books to tell a story or send a message. I believe kids are still kids and enjoy looking at the illustrations. As an adult, I still enjoy the artistic elements that are presented in children’s literature. The topic is heavy and powerful, but telling it in the form of a picture book allows for involvement and invitation. The illustrations add another layer of interest to the story.
Bully tells the story of a new girl arriving at middle school for the first day. She bonds quickly with a boy named Jamie, who becomes her loyal friend. It is when she makes the cheerleading squad and gets noticed by the popular/cool girls, that she isn’t the friend to Jamie that he has been to her. After making tough choices, she realizes who her true friends are and that hanging with the popular girls isn’t always what it is cracked up to be. After the popular girls begin to make fun of Lyla’s “real” friend, Jamie, Lyla takes a risk and makes the right choice to stand up against the popular girls and have the courage to defend her friend. This is an excerpt from the conversation that Lyla has with Gage (one of the popular girls). “I got up the all the courage I could and pulled away from her. “Jamie Aldrich is no court jester, no clown, Gage…And he’s one of my best friends.” I wanted to say, You and your friends are nothing but bullies. Bullies! Even so, I walked away feeling like I a ten-thousand pound weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was walking on air.” Polacco plays out the story with the use of social networking and school drama that kids today can relate to today. The story is current, relevant and honest. A unique twist to the story is at end, when the reader is asked a question, “What would you do?” The words are printed in bold; I believe this was done to demonstrate the importance of dialogue regarding this topic. I think Patricia Polacco wants parents, teachers and kids to start talking and addressing this topic now. In reading her book, it is the perfect way to open the door and start to put an end to cyber bullying.
Ways to Use Bully in the Classroom:
- Simply reading the book to students is a way to spark conversation about the topic of cyber bullying. The last page poses a bold question that the reader/audience must address. “What would you do?” Allow students to address the question. The question can be written on chart paper. Record responses or let students come up and write their own responses.
- Patricia Polacco has a You Tube video that discusses her inspiration for writing the book and offers suggestions as to how to utilize with kids. She talks about her visits to schools and provides examples of questions to ask kids after reading her Bully.
- Instruct students to research websites or literature the provide ways to end cyber bullying. There is a program that I found called STOP cyber bullying. It was the first cyber bullying program in North America. There are excellent tools to utilize for different age groups on the website. www.stopcyberbulling.org There is a story entitles, Goldilocks and the Cyberparents that students can read or can be read as a class. It has facts and information to follow. Familiar characters from folk and fairy tales are used to tell a familiar story, using today’s social media.
- Have students write a personal reflection about Bully. Individually let students address their own thoughts and ideas. Students may or may not want to share their thoughts, but their writings can be a springboard for discussion.
- Brainstorm an action plan for your school/classroom. Allow students to create an action list of how to deal with cyber bullying. Perhaps create a class list but also have students create their own personal list. Put in writing, what you would do if you or someone you know was the target of cyber bullying.
- Create PSA’s (Public Service Announcements) to address cyber bullying. Students may want to work alone or with a partner to create a powerful message.
7. Encourage students to create positive sayings to buzz words to promote a positive school/classroom atmosphere. Use graffiti style writing to post the sayings for
students to see/use.
Kim Masturzo is an Adjunct Instructor at Ohio Dominican University where she teaches Children’s and Young Adult Literature and also supervises student teachers. She is passionate about teaching and enjoys her work with pre-service teachers. Kim is married and has two amazing children.