In honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, C.C. Payne, author of Lula Bell on Geekdom, Freakdom & the Challenges of Bad Hair, shares the books that helped her through some rough days in middle school.
Hey! I’m Lula Bell Bonner. That’s my picture right there on the cover of the novel, Lula Bell on Geekdom, Freakdom & the Challenges of Bad Hair—not that I think I'm cool or anything—nobody thinks that. I'm in the fifth-grade, where I'm trying desperately to fit in but (sigh)... it’s not going so well.
See, fitting in at school is a very delicate art form. For starters, it requires the right lunch, the right clothes, the right friends, and relatives who don't show up unexpectedly. I have none of those things.
My Grandma Bernice (who showed up at school this morning WITH HER CURLERS STILL IN HER HAIR!) says that’s okay, because we're not made to fit in; we're made to stand out. But she’s wrong. Standing out or being different in any way is bad—very bad. It causes other kids to make fun of you, laugh at you, and humiliate you until you no longer want to just “fit in”; you want to disappear.
C. C. Payne here. Like Lula Bell, I often wanted to disappear as a middle grader. Like Lula Bell, I was bullied—though there was no official word for it back then, no anti-bullying campaign, and no training for educators or parents on how to handle such situations. My teacher overlooked my torment under the heading of “Kids will be kids.” My dad told me it shouldn't matter if some people didn't like me. My mom’s solution was to “kill with kindness,” even going so far as to have me look up my bully’s phone number and dial it with trembling hands and with the intent of inviting her over (!!!). Thankfully, no one answered. After that, I never again complained. Instead, I silently swallowed my humiliation, pain, fear, and dread. But that was about all I could keep down. Since my stomach was constantly upset, I ate very little—I became even thinner. This caused rumors that I was anorexic—as if I didn't have enough problems. No one understood.
Except for Judy Blume. Her honest portrayal of the pack-mentality that often comes with bullying in the novel Blubber, let me know that I wasn't alone. Wanting to “fit in,” the protagonist, Jill, goes along with the other girls as they bully an overweight classmate, whom they've nicknamed Blubber. Thirty years later, I still believe that Ms. Blume is one of the best friends a middle grade girl—and her parents—can have.
Author Ellen Potter is another worthy friend. 12-year-old Owen, the protagonist of her novel, Slob, is an overweight genius. Naturally, Owen’s classmates—and his gym coach—find these traits unforgivable and Owen finds himself a victim of bullying. Even so, he doesn't feel sorry for himself. No, Owen copes exceptionally well—demonstrating intelligence, resourcefulness, and good humor.
Of course, bullying doesn't only affect those who are overweight. In Wonder by R. J. Palacio, Auggie is a fifth grade boy with severe facial anomalies, who, despite being different, dares to want the same things we all want: acceptance, friendship, and belonging.
All of these books provide understanding, comfort, hope, and courage—not to mention laughter—to those in need, to those who are different, to those who fail to fit in, because they're made to stand out—to shine.