Sunday, July 15, 2018

Being the Change #cyberPD Ch. 5-6: text set for upstanders

This summer's #cyberPD online educator book club is tackling the brand-new (and inspiring!) Being the Change: lessons and strategies to teach social comprehension by Sara Ahmed. Join us during the month of July as we read, discuss, and reflect on this powerful book and how to incorporate it into our classrooms. You can find all the details about #cyberPD here and/or click here to join the Google+ discussion group.

Thoughts on Chapters 5-6: Finding Humanity in Ourselves and Others

Even just the chapter titles for these last two chapters make me hopeful: finding humanity in ourselves and others (Chapter 5) and facing crisis together (Chapter 6). As I'm sure we can all agree, there has never been a more timely book than this one or a more important time to be nurturing a sense of humanity in our students and communities. I love how the lessons in the previous chapters build towards this point, how understanding ourselves and our place in the world can help us better reach out and understand others.

There are so many wonderful books out there to help students grapple with some of the issues in these chapters, especially around bullying and being an "upstander" rather than a bystander. Sara includes just a few in her list of resources for understanding our universe of obligation, so I thought I'd round up some others for those interested. Did I miss any of your favorites?

Text Set on Being an Upstander

I've subdivided this list into "younger" and "middle grade / middle school" but you could absolutely use any of these books with older students too (and even vice-versa, depending on your students).

For younger students

One by Kathryn Otoshi. This book deals directly with the issue of bystanders vs. upstanders as a group of colored blobs are variously bullied and intimidated by Red. Only one blue has the courage to speak up and encourage, does change happen. Follow up books include Zero (dealing with self-doubt) and Two (dealing with issues of exclusive friendships).

Be a Friend (2016) by Selina Yoon. Dennis, who is a mime, lives life his own way but still feels lonely, until another student reaches out to him. I think this is a book that needs discussion and conversation to guide it but that it can help kids to see how stepping up and reaching out can positively impact someone else.

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett Krosoczka. This story of friendship, bullying and doing what is right revolves around two friends, Peanut Butter (a sea horse) and Jellyfish, and Crabby, their cranky neighbor. This story could foster discussion among kids about bullying but also about what can happen when friendships become exclusive. Cute illustrations too. (H/T Linda at Teacher Dance.)

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade (2015) by Justin Roberts and illustrated by Christian Robinson. I loved the illustrations in this book - especially the diversity of kids represented! But the story is very simplistic. One little girl raises one little finger and suddenly the whole world decides to be nice to each other? Switching from being a bystander to doing something about it takes more work than that, but this could be a good book for younger students as a place to start a conversation.

For middle grade or middle school students

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill. This one is a must-have for any classroom or library. It addresses issues of bullying and bystanders but in a much more complex and meaningful way than many books for kids. Truly we need the power of this book's message about how individual actions (even if they may seem small) can have a big impact.

Red by Jan de Kinder. This book brings up some of the complexities of being an upstander, as one character (the girl on the cover) is actually a bit of a participant in the initial bullying of her classmate, but through the course of the book her understanding of her role changes. I think it's important for kids to see that they can be complicit in events unfolding around them - but also that they can then do something about them.

Wings (2000) by Christopher Myers. This unique take on bullying features a supporting character, Ikarus Jackson, a young (presumably black) boy with wings. The narrator, a bystander and fellow student, shares his/her own observations about the new boy and everyone's reactions to him. Only after witnessing much does the narrator step up and stop the bullying. This could be a great book for generating discussion about diversity, inclusion, bullying, and differences.

What are your favorite books for teaching kids about empathy and being an upstander?

Join us via the Google+ discussion group. (Click here for all #cyberPD posts, including previous years.)


  1. I am trying to add to my list too, so grateful to see your ideas!

  2. Thanks for sharing these book titles ... a few new ones for me to check out. Another new title about being an upstander: I walk with Vanessa. It's a wordless book, but worth the read! :)

    Also, do check out a padlet that was created by Jenny to start collecting titles that inspire and support social comprehension work:

  3. I love this list! Thank you!


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