Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Birds & The Bullies

I, Comma Queen, am almost ashamed to admit the following statement: I am super pumped about the upcoming Royal Wedding. I always loved Princess Diana as a kid, and I remember watching the news coverage of her death and funeral, devastated - for those who knew and loved her, for her country that adored her, and for those of us who wished they could be like her from afar. I watched, as did many, her sons grow up and become men that would make their mother proud.

I have enjoyed learning about Prince William's fiancee, Kate Middleton. I think she's a gorgeous young woman, poised, and ready to thrive in her new position as Princess. I am unabashedly following all news of the Royal Couple!

I was caught a little off guard today when I read a headline stating that Kate had been bullied at her prep school. I read the article and was disgusted by the things that her classmates did to her because she was "too nice."

Too nice?!?

I am glad to know that, through it all, she seems to have maintained her sense of being nice. I was pleased to see that William and Kate have listed an organization known as Beatbullying ( as a charity for people to donate to in lieu of giving the couple wedding gifts.

All of this, of course, led me to start thinking about bullying on our side of the Atlantic. There are many worldwide organizations designed to raise awareness about bullying. I looked up organizations for the US and found There is a lot of helpful information on this site for kids, parents, and educators alike. I am pleased to see such awareness about such a crippling, humiliating, and devastating matter.

Kids have heard the whole "don't bully" song and dance before though. Yet bullying continues. We teach them to stand up for each other on the playground. Yet bullying continues. We, as parents and educators, keep on heightened alert during down time. Yet bullying continues. What else can we do to combat such a thing?

The picture I've included is the cover art for for Katherine Erskine's beautiful novel, Mockingbird. It is about a fifth grade girl named Caitlin who has Asperger's Syndrome. Caitlin is mercilessly bullied and picked on for her odd behaviors. She is also alienated because her brother, Devon, was murdered in a school shooting at his middle school.

As I read this poignant story, I found myself moved to tears more than once. I felt like I truly connected with Caitlin as the author helped me to better understand the thoughts that someone with Asperger's might have. I felt like, through a novel, I was able to actually get in someone else's very different shoes and understand her. Though this story has many sad events, there are some joyful triumphs as well. It left me feeling awed and respectful of those with difficult diagnoses, and it gave me hope about the fate of humankind.

According to the author, this moving story was inspired by the tragedy of events from the Virginia Tech shootings. At the end of the novel, Erskine asserts that, "by getting inside someone's head, really understanding that person, so many misunderstandings and problems can be avoided - misunderstandings and problems that can lead to mounting frustration and, sometimes, even violence."

As a teacher, I feel it is my duty to continue to give the "don't bully" song and dance. I will continue to learn more about how to stop bullying and what to do about bullies from organizations like

However, one of the best things I think I can do, especially as a teacher of reading, is to share stories like Mockingbird with my students. I want them to experience firsthand the terrors of bullying in a safe way, through a lovely, complex character like Caitlin. I want them to struggle along with her, feel her frustrations and agony, and join in her triumphs. Hopefully, if I read this story to my students, they will be able to do things that Katherine Erskine wishes for - true understanding.

Mockingbird was chosen as a Georgia Book Award Winner for 2011-2012. See a list of other award winners here.

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