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1/24/11: Little Girls Can Be Mean: A Book Review first published online at Families Online Magazine

Straightforward Title Offers Clear-Cut Advice on Helping Your Elementary School-Aged Daughter Cope with Mean Girls

As a reader, I sometimes laugh in amazement at the wordy, zany, and often downright misleading titles that are given to books these days. As a writer, I often find myself staring at my own computer screen, trying to come up with the most clever, catchy, and don’t forget SEO-friendliest title for my work. Last week, as I was perusing the Parenting section shelves at my local Barnes & Noble (pre-occupied with how to best prepare my 2nd grade daughter for coping with little girls who are mean) the most appealing title jumped out at me--Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades (St. Martin’s Griffen, 2010). I wonder how long it took authors Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert to think of it?
I purchased the book as much for its honest and forthright titling as for the practical instructions I was hoping to find within its pages. I am happy to report that I am not disappointed with either. Little Girls Can Be Mean is 263 pages worth of simple-to-understand and easy-to-apply advice for how young girls can navigate the complex social pathways of elementary school and how parents and educators can support them in doing so.

The guide book gives all-important credence to the fact that relational aggression (aka: bullying) begins as early as the pre-school years with young girls, and becomes more intentional and intensive as the early school years progress. Anthony and Lindert emphasize that it is never too early to prepare our daughters for the realities of their world. They note that giving girls the skills to manage social struggles on their own (though always with the encouragement and support of trustworthy adults) provides them with confidence and a sense of competence that will serve them well throughout their life.

Little Girls Can Be Mean tackles a wide range of the most commonly experienced social difficulties faced by elementary school aged girls, including:

• Yo-Yo Friendships
• Social Exclusion
• When a Best Friend Pulls Away
• Social Power Plays
• The Rumor Mill
With dozens of hands-on activities aimed directly at young girls and detailed explanations of how parents can apply a 4-step process for coping with bullying (observe, connect, guide, support to act) across many situations, Little Girls Can Be Mean is a valuable resource for any parent, educator, and/or girl facing the social dynamics of the early school years.

1/24/2011: Words Matter!  First published online at Parentella on 1/21/2011:

Words matter! It is a theme that has been echoed across the news media and around the Congressional Halls in Washington D.C. this week, following the tragic shooting in Tucson, AZ and the senseless deaths of six innocent people. From January 24th-28th, schools will also be emphasizing this message, as it relates to bullying, during national No Name-Calling Week. Here are some children’s book titles that can help you and your young reader consider the power of words:

The Bully Blockers Club by Teresa Bateman

The Bully Blockers Club harnesses the power of the group in standing up to—and stopping (err, make that ‘blocking’)—bullies. In this cute story for pre-school and early elementary school readers, Grant Grizzly teases Lottie Raccoon mercilessly, withstanding all of her best individual efforts to ignore him and walk away. But when Lottie rallies others kids who have been bullied by Grant into a club designed to stop the Grizzly in his taunting tracks, they find strength in numbers and success in standing up for one another. The Bully Blockers Club is a great book for sparking discussion with young kids about bullies, bystanders, and standing up for what is right.

Bullies Never Win by Margery Cuyler

This easy-to-relate-to children’s book tells the tale of Brenda Bailey, a bully who persistently and relentlessly taunts and teases her classmate, Jessica. Cuyler creates an accurate portrayal of how targets like Jessica typically respond to bullying, including experiencing anxiety, losing sleep, quitting sports, changing their style of dress, and fearing asking for help. She also uses Jessica to show young readers that the best way to handle bullies is to stand up to them in assertive ways. Jessica’s bold “Toothpicks may be thin, but bullies never win,” is a triumphant moment of self-defense that can inspire and embolden elementary school-aged readers.

Don’t Laugh at Me by Steven Seskin

The text for this children’s book began as a song about encouraging kindness among children. Now, Don’t Laugh at Me is the anthem for Peter Yarrow’s (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) educational program, Operation Respect. Sold as a book/CD combo, this set imparts an important message about respect for differences and the importance of language in communicating worthiness, love, and compassion.

No Name-Calling Week will be celebrated in schools all over the United States during the week of January 24th-28th. As teachers and counselors plan group activities and discussions around this important theme, you can emphasize the same message at home with these great children’s and tweenage reads:

Jungle Bullies by Steve Kroll

Jungle Bullies is a picture book for preschoolers that uses rhyme and repetition to share important messages about standing up for yourself and learning to share. With engaging, child-friendly illustrations and inviting jungle animal characters, this is a great choice for introducing concepts about friendship and bullying to the youngest readers.

Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully by Audrey Penn

When I saw this book on the bookstore end cap, I had to reach for it right away. Penn’s The Kissing Hand has always been one of my favorite tales (to this day, my five-year old, inspired by the book, still draws hearts on her palm whenever she is missing someone) so I knew I’d want to check out whatever Penn had written.

I have to admit that in my first read of the book, I wondered if this tale about turning a bully into a pal might be too simplistic and unrealistic of a message for young kids dealing with a troublesome bullying situation. I stand firm on this first impression, but also give weight to my thoughts after a second read, which are that teaching children to extend a hand of friendship is always a positive message and good initial strategy for approaching relationships. These varied reactions are exactly what make this book a good read for young children and a great discussion starter at home.

My Secret Bully by Trudi Ludwig

My Secret Bully, written for tween readers, lifts the lid off of the hidden culture of relational aggression, otherwise known as girl bullying. It tells the story of Monica and Katie—two girls who have been friends since Kindergarten, but who now are facing a rift in their relationship, as Katie begins to exclude and embarrass her former friend in front of their other classmates. In tackling this painful subject of the ways in which some girls use relationships as weapons, Ludwig provides an accurate and not-often-addressed portrait of a young girl’s anguish at the hands of a frenemy. My Secret Bully is not a light-hearted portrayal of bullying, nor does it offer pat answers. But it does address an important issue in the lives of upper elementary and middle school-aged girls and can serve as a great springboard for discussions with parents.

For more information, suggested resources, and additional discussion ideas, please visit the No Name-Calling Week website.