A Minnesota girl taunted for dressing differently has to transfer to an alternate school to reclaim a normal life. A 13-year-old in Connecticut begins to contemplate suicide after relentless harassment, resulting in the arrest of a 12-year-old classmate. A note reveals cyberbullying as one factor in the tragic decision of a New York teen to take her own life. These are a handful of the many stories related to bullying that have popped up in the news in recent months. According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, nearly one-third of all school-age children are bullied—some 13 million children and teens each year.
Publishers are doing their part to bring attention to this pervasive issue, with an increase in high-profile titles, including both fiction and nonfiction, aimed at stopping the cycle of bullying and helping victims cope.
Angie Manfredi, head of youth services for the Los Alamos County Library System in Los Alamos, N.Mex., has been working with teens professionally for six years. She sees them reading a wide range of stories about bullying, citing as favorites Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (Razorbill), Erin Jade Lange’s Butter (Bloomsbury), and A.S. King’s Everybody Sees the Ants (Little, Brown).
“Why are these the books I hear them recommending to each other?” asks Manfredi. “Because, as I always say, literature is a lifeline: books about bullying, with plots and writing styles as different as the three I’ve mentioned, all tell teens the same thing: this is a bad situation you’re in and it’s serious and it hurts and it’s scary.” She adds, “That doesn’t automatically offer a solution, I know, and that makes some people uncomfortable and sad, but for teens, even seeing that message in a book can be a lifeline, solace and comfort.”
Truth in Fiction
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, which means that there’s even more discussion than usual about this critical topic. Manfredi has been an outspoken advocate for one of the year’s most acclaimed new novels, with four starred reviews, which grapples with issues around bullying: Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Candlewick, Mar.). The book describes the experience of a Latina teen randomly targeted by a bully at her new school. The author was shocked to be disinvited from a Virginia middle school event to discuss the subject of bullying, when objections were raised about the book’s title. Around the same time, YA author Rainbow Rowell found a speaking engagement at a Minnesota school canceled and her book Eleanor & Park (St. Martin’s, Feb.), which features a bullied girl, pulled from the shelves of the school library for concerns about profanity and allegedly explicit content.
Medina says such reactions miss the point of what students are dealing with every day. “We can’t have these conversations with antiseptic language,” she says. The author adds that when writing the novel, she listened closely to how her own kids talked about what they saw happening at school. “Again, I say that you have to tell kids the truth. These are the words that are used. I have no magic bullet, what I have is a story that can help someone.”
While teens are often reluctant to approach Medina with stories after her appearances at schools—as she points out, their bullies may be sitting in the same classroom during her talks—she receives many e-mails from bullied kids. And she says that after every talk, without fail, an adult approaches her, often visibly affected, and relates a story about his or her own long-ago experience with bullying. The first line and the title of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass come from Medina’s own experience living in fear of a bully for two years in a Queens, N.Y., junior high school, and she’s not surprised that others have similar stories—or that the problem has been around for a long time. Still, there are important differences these days.
“Young people do live in a digital time; things can become public and spread very easily,” Medina says, adding, “There’s a sense of not being able to escape it.” But she also says she hopes we’re “turning a corner on attitudes about the right to feel safe in school.” Author Erin Jade Lange agrees. Her debut novel, Butter, released last year by Bloomsbury, features an overweight boy who decides, in response to bullying, to eat himself to death while people watch via his Web site. Her newest title, Dead Ends, which was recently released by Bloomsbury, tackles bullying from the other side—the protagonist is a bully, dishing out what he believes to be just punishments.
Lange, who is also a TV journalist, says that the mail she gets from young readers often includes their deepest secrets about what they’ve gone through, and that the unexpected response from readers, teachers, and librarians has been “the most rewarding part” of being an author. She worries that the sheer amount of discussion about bullying might have an unanticipated effect. “I see firsthand how ‘bully’ has become a media buzzword, and buzzwords tend to lose their meaning,” says Lange. “I think it’s important to keep the conversation going, but perhaps with an emphasis on kindness versus cruelty and on the importance of speaking up,” she notes.
In fact, there are plenty of bullying-focused books in which teens share their own powerful accounts of bullying, and, in the process, offer a lifeline to others who may be suffering.
Perhaps the most prominent new release along these lines is the latest work from Teen Ink, Bullying Under Attack: True Stories Written by Teen Victims, Bullies & Bystanders, edited by Stephanie and John Meyer (HCI Teen). Published in September, it collects 100 of the best essays, letters, and poems about bullying written by Teen Ink contributors in response to a call for submissions on the topic. Teen Ink partners with HCI for distribution of its titles and is associated with the 25-year-old Teen Ink Magazine, distributed in 600–700 high schools via classroom sets and subscriptions. Teen Ink also has a Web site that publishes online 98% of submissions it receives from kids around the world.
Both HCI and editor Meyer cite an enthusiastic early response to the title—and the response from Teen Ink contributors to that first call for information was also big. Meyer read some 6,000 “heartbreaking” essays, from which she culled the 100 collected in the book. As she began to sift through the submissions and sort them, clear themes emerged, along with an idea for organizing the book into three categories. “We had all three prongs of this incredible problem represented: the victims, the bullies, and the bystanders,” she explains. “The more the book gets out there now, the more the response grows. This is the kind of book kids can connect to. What victims really need is to know they are not alone.”
That same sentiment is echoed by one of the contributors to Bullying Under Attack, Sitav Nabi. Now 18 and a freshman at Villanova University, Nabi says that her essay, “Dear Peers,” was a “quick, emotional response to a moment in my life, when I had just had enough.” She says, “My bullying defined a part of who I was. I was the girl who was bullied. That’s how I viewed myself, sometimes even introduced myself.”
Nabi never dreamed that her work would be published, or that “hundreds of strangers” would leave comments about it on the Teen Ink site. The reaction affected her deeply, and sharing her story was clearly cathartic. “The way my peers made me feel haunts me to this day. It’s a horrific emotion of helplessness, anonymity, worthlessness,” Nabi says. She adds, “I hope that no one, if I can help it, ever has to feel this way. I will do anything to bring someone out from that hole.”
Teen Ink is also running a video campaign (teenink.com/video/bullying/) to help spread the word about the book, and to get out the message that no one being bullied should feel alone. The videos will feature contributors to the anthology, but the public is also invited to send in testimonials.
A slightly different and younger-skewing personal story comes from small publisher Wild Onion Press, which has seen a gratifying reaction to its 2012 picture book The First Day Speech. Author Isabelle Hadala was born with ectoderma dysplasia, meaning her hands, teeth, and toes did not develop normally in the womb. She established a tradition at age six of giving a speech to her classroom on the first day of school about how kids should treat her just as they would anyone else.
“We are such a small publishing company, and we serve the school market where Izzy’s story will make the most difference,” says publisher Shelley Fraser Mickle. She couldn’t pass up the story of a young girl “advocating for herself in a heroic act.”
News of Hadala’s book made its way to the national media, and she was featured on the Today show. As a result, she’s made numerous school appearances and is part of apparel company Aeropostale’s Stomp Out Bullying campaign.
Meanwhile, Penguin’s Puffin imprint is excited about its forthcoming Gabe & Izzy: Standing Up for America’s Bullied (Mar.), by noted antibullying activist and speaker Gabrielle Ford, about her relationship with her long-eared coonhound Izzy. Ford has a rare genetic neuromuscular disease and was the victim of cruel bullying when she a child. When her beloved pooch developed a similar muscular disease, she spoke up to get her dog the best treatment. This experience prompted her to relate her own story in order to help kids who might be facing the similar issues.
Gotham recently brought into paperback its book Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality, by John Schwartz, adding a new afterword. The author is a reporter for the New York Times, and he worked with his son, Joe, to chronicle Joe’s suicide attempt at the age of 13, after he came out to his classmates, and its aftermath. With the support of his family, Joe was able to come back from the dark place where bullying left him and join his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.
Megan Newman, Gotham’s editorial director, says that gay kids all too often find themselves the targets of bullying. “While our culture is changing fast, it’s not changing fast enough for kids like Joe,” she says, adding, “This is the book that John wishes he’d had as his enlightened family struggled to find a place where Joe would fit in.”
The growing numbers of books dealing with bullying target a wide variety of age groups. From somewhat gentler stories for younger children to expert guidance for parents and kids on how to deal with bullying when they encounter it, there is a wealth of resources.
At the younger end of the spectrum, one notable new picture book release is Loukoumi and the Schoolyard Bully (Dream Day Press, Nov.), the latest installment in the Loukoumi series by Nick Katsoris. It comes with an audio CD voiced by Morgan Freeman and Nia Vardalos. Proceeds from the sale of the title will benefit the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. In the book, Loukoumi is bullied about her unusual name by an alligator, who eventually realizes he’s in the wrong.
According to Katsoris, “The Loukoumi books are all about teaching kids how to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others, and I can’t think of a better topic to discuss with children than bullying and the importance of being kind and respecting one another.”
Also for the younger set is Bully Bean, which came out in July and was published by Lima Bear. The book is set in the kingdom of Beandom, where Bully Bean is feared. Over the course of the story, Bully Bean makes fun of Lima Bear for his green fur, but the tables are turned when he needs help from Lima Bear and his friends.
In June, New Horizons Press released Owen Has Burgers and Drum: Helping to Understand and Befriend Kids with Asperger’s Syndrome by Christine M. Sheils, with Frank R. Pane. The title is part of the publisher’s Let’s Talk series for ages 4–7. It’s designed to help parents and educators talk to children about respect, tolerance, and acceptance of classmates with Asperger’s.
Religion-focused publisher Read the Spirit Books has undertaken an unusual new project to follow up on the success of 2012’s The New Bullying, which it published in collaboration with the Michigan State University School of Journalism (the book was written by students of the M.S.U. program). Bullying Is No Laughing Matter (Dec.), edited by Kurt Kolka, contains a full-length graphic novel by Kolka featuring young adult superhero the Cardinal. It also includes a real-life account of a teenage girl’s experience being bullied, and the second half features dozens of comic “story starters” from major cartoonists that allow kids to determine what should happen next when such comic characters as Funky Winkerbean and Dick Tracy encounter bullying.
“The first book, we heard from readers, is terrific for adults—for parents and educators. But effective antibullying programs need books that appeal to younger readers,” says David Crumm, editor at Read the Spirit, about the decision to publish the graphic novel project.
It’s worth pointing out that not all books have to be “about” bullying to help bullying victims. Recording artist and celebrity Demi Lovato has spoken out against bullying; her book of daily affirmations, Staying Strong: 365 Days a Year (Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends), goes on sale in November. Her 17 million Twitter followers and her legion of devoted young fans may find encouragement from the title, which is based on Lovato’s own experiences.
On the more traditional side, offering advice for adults and children, Barron’s Educational Series is building a strong list. Bullying No More: Understanding and Preventing Bullying by Kimberly L. Mason, which came out in August, shows parents how to change behavior and foster better communication. The publisher also has two titles slated for 2014: Bullying Case Studies: Learn from Real Life Bullying Experiences of Others by Michael Carpenter (June) and, for younger readers, Say No to Bullying by Louise Spilsbury, illustrated by Mike Gordon (Feb.).
Eric Lowenhar, Barron’s marketing manager, says, “The feedback we’ve received from key accounts has been that this is an issue that’s unfortunately not going away; in fact, it’s grown in prominence over the past few years due to the rise of social media.” Harper recently brought its well-received Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear by blogger Carrie Goldman into paperback (HarperOne). Goldman’s inspiring true story about her bullied daughter triggered an outpouring of support from around the world. In the book, she explains the crucial lessons she’s learned about how to stop bullying before it starts. Goldman first became a voice for the antibullying movement when she blogged about her first-grader Katie being teased over her Star Wars thermos. This year, Goldman moderated an “End Bullying” panel held at Comic-Con in San Diego, Calif., and it was such a success that a second panel was added at the recent New York Comic-Con.
But in spite of the growing library of resources and the attention they are bringing to this subject, Manfredi says there’s still a need for more. “What we need in this area is the same thing we need for all young adult literature. We need more books with more diverse characters,” she says. “And we need more quality, teen-appropriate nonfiction.”
In Need of Some (Self-)Help
If there’s one point every publisher of self-help books agrees on, it’s the fact that competition within the category is as stiff as ever. Breakouts frequently require a platform and a new slant on an issue.
“There’s no question: it can be hard to find something new and exciting in self-help,” says Caroline Pincus, associate publisher at Red Wheel/Weiser. “Most subjects have either been done to death or anyone with access to the Web can find free advice and information on how to handle them. If you’re submitting a self-help book to me, I want to know the specific problem it addresses and how you can fix it.”
Scott Manning, chairman of the executive committee of the Books for a Better Life Awards, which presents annual awards to the top self-help books, observes that “self-help is such a huge umbrella of a subject area.” The awards have been broken down into 10 categories and the committee receives nearly 500 submissions per year. Manning views the most important areas as inspirational memoir, wellness, and motivational, noting that the last is the heart of the field. “These are books that spur people to action both in their business and personal lives,” he says. The following are several notable recent and forthcoming self-help titles.
Lost and Found: Finding Hope in the Detours of Life by Sarah Jakes (Apr., hardcover). TV personality Jakes, who oversees the women’s ministry at the multicultural, nondenominational Potter’s House of Dallas, offers a memoir that has an announced first printing of 75,000.
101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom: Expert Advice from One Stepmom to Another by Laura Petherbridge (May, trade paper). Petherbridge, an international speaker and author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”: Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, has been featured on FamilyLife Today, HomeWord, and the Crown Financial Ministries’ radio broadcast. She has taught about divorce recovery at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Fla.
What Are You Waiting For? Learn How to Rise to the Occasion of Your Life by Kristen Moeller (Nov., trade paper). A self-confessed “self-help junkie,” Moeller shares how she got past the persistent feeling of falling short and started living. The book features a foreword by Jack Canfield, coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and will publish on Chicken Soup for the Soul Day, Nov. 12.
Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself: 40 Ways to Transform Your Inner Critic and Your Life by Lori Deschene (Oct., hardcover). Deschene describes her personal struggles with bulimia and her stays in psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment centers. The book teaches readers how to accept their flaws and let go of the need for approval.
Take the Leap: Do What You Love 15 Minutes a Day and Create the Life of Your Dreams by Heather McCloskey Beck (Oct., trade paper). An inspirational tome from the popular speaker, global peace activist, and Huffington Post contributor.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (hardcover). Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability, arguing that while feeling vulnerable is at the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment, it is also the birthplace of love, belonging, innovation, success, and creativity. She offers readers the tools to embrace these qualities and become courageous and successful. Gotham’s associate publicity director Beth Parker notes that this 2012 title, with nearly 320,000 copies in print, “has been incredibly successful for us and a great example of the legs that these types of books can have.”
Getting Older Better by Pam Blair (Apr. 2014, trade paper). This title is filled with positive and practical advice for baby boomer women during the second half of their lives. Blair, a holistic psychotherapist, covers more than 100 topics, including health, libido, memory, death of loved ones, downsizing, retirement, finances, parenting adult children, and more.
He Wins, She Wins: Learning the Art of Marital Negotiations by Willard F. Harley Jr. (Oct., hardcover). Harley, a psychologist and marriage counselor, offers advice for couples.
Parenting Your Powerful Child: Bringing an End to the Everyday Battles by Kevin Leman (Sept., hardcover). Leman, a psychologist and author of more than 40 books, including Have a New Kid by Friday, returns with guidance for parents of smart, strong-willed children in this title, which was released in September.
The Smart Woman’s Guide to Planning for Retirement: How to Save for Your Future Today by Mary Hunt (Nov., hardcover). Hunt, a syndicated columnist and popular motivational speaker, shares her personal finance advice, learned the hard way after a crisis with debt.
Being Sober: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting to, Getting Through, and Living in Recovery by Harry Haroutunian. The physician director of professional and residential programs at the Betty Ford Center shares his accumulated wisdom to help people deal with drug and alcohol abuse. The book includes a foreword by Steven Tyler, and the trade paper edition was released in September.
Walk Like a Buddha: Even If Your Boss Sucks, Your Ex Is Torturing You, and You’re Hungover Again by Lodro Rinzler (Oct., trade paper). The Huffington Post advice columnist and author of the bestselling The Buddha Walks into a Bar offers tips for living with integrity, compassion, and happiness in the real world.
Trafalgar Square Books
You Can Change Your Life: Easy Steps to Getting What You Want by Rob Yeung (Nov., trade paper). This straightforward guide from psychologist and bestselling author Yeung is designed to build a personalized self-improvement strategy.