UTR: Sizism & Weight Issues

UTR: Sizism & Weight Issues

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Under the Radar (UTR) is a regular review column on the ALAN website that highlights the publications of smaller presses. The most recent column is below; for archives of the UTR column, please see this page.

Under the Radar: Bullying, Sizism and Weight Issues

by The UTR Team:
cj bott, James Bucky Carter, Sean Kottke, Jon Ostenson, Daria Plumb, and Jennifer Walsh

The mission of Under the Radar has been to feature publications of interest to adolescent and young adult readers from small publishers that may fly under the radar in the book world. While previous columns have each focused on a single publisher, our next series of columns will embrace books from multiple small publishers that focus on different populations of adolescents most targeted by bullying, as laid out in Generation Bullied 2.0 (Miller, Burns & Johnson, 2013). Our first column in this series takes up the issue of sizism and weight discrimination, and features an extended discussion of two selected titles on this theme, The Fat Boy Chronicles and Picture Me. Following our discussion, we present a bibliography of notable books on bullying and weight discrimination from a variety of small publishers. (See the introductory column on this topic here.)

First, an introduction to our featured books:

Fat Boy ChroniclesThe Fat Boy Chronicles by Diane Lang & Michael Buchanan. Sleeping Bear Press, 2010. Co-written by high school English teachers and inspired by their classroom experiences, The Fat Boy Chronicles introduces readers to Jimmy Winterpock, an overweight ninth grader who arrives at a new high school with high hopes for a fresh start on his social life, following a rocky few years of teasing in middle school. Relating the events of his freshman year through his English class journal, Jimmy soon discovers that his new school has new bullies for him to cope with as he contemplates a plan to improve his health, appearance and social standing.

 

Picture MePicture Me by Lori Weber. Orca Book Publishers, 2014. Also written by an English teacher, Picture Me opens with a classroom recitation of Marge Piercy’s classic poem “Barbie Doll,” which leads to a bullying incident that will have a butterfly effect on the lives of three teenage girls: the overweight Krista (who reads the poem), her best friend Tessa (who is coping with the recent loss of her father to an IED in Afghanistan), and “mean girl” Chelsea (who is obsessed with celebrity culture and will stop at nothing for a chance to experience the glamorous life). Each girl narrates her own story as body image consciousness exacts its own unique toll on these three young lives.

 

 

Sean: To what extent do the bullying incidents depicted in these two novels illustrate similarities or differences between how boys and girls experience bullying?

cj: The bullying in The Fat Boy Chronicles and in Picture Me is grounded in reality. The places where bullying most often happens are the locker room, cafeteria, hallways, school bus, the walk home, and after-school events. All of these have little to no adult supervision. The locker room often supports the worst bullying in a school; besides having little or no adult supervision, the students are in various stages of undress, which makes targets feel more exposed and vulnerable, and jocks may take advantage of these factors to embarrass and harass those they perceive to be “lesser” than they. On a side note, once while discussing stereotype bullying and stereotype bullies with seventh graders, I talked about labels that were attached or assigned to people by others. While we were discussing the term jock one male student stood to announce he was a jock and proud to be a jock. He didn’t understand why that was a “bad” thing. I asked him which he would rather be called, a jock or an athlete? To his credit, he took a moment to think and then answered, “an athlete.” We agreed that there was something more honorable about being an athlete.

Girl athletes/jocks do not typically have the same presence in school as the boy athletes/jocks. However, mean girls have an even stronger presence and also target randomly. The queen bee may simply point to a classroom or cafeteria door and announce, “The next girl that comes through that door I will have crying in one week.” And she will, which is what happens in Picture Me. Chelsea, who is very focused on her looks, is the boss in her group. She needs a target for her anger and she settles on Krista, who is overweight and self-conscious, and thus an easy target. Chelsea goes after Krista and publicly humiliates her by posting a distorted photo of Krista on her locker, and then she and her girls wait for Krista to show up so they can watch her humiliation while they gloat.

Jon: I agree with cj that girls’ bullying seems to be more subversive, more psychological, although both boys and girls in these books experience plenty of verbal teasing and taunting. I was surprised while reading at how violent Chelsea became in the confrontations with Tessa and with Annie, but shouldn’t have been given the things I saw as a public school teacher.

There are two similarities in these portrayals that really have me thinking, though. One is that the behavior of the bullies in both situations seems, unsurprisingly, to come from deep-seated insecurities they have (this is more clear in Picture Me while we only have Jimmy’s speculation about Robb and Nate in Fat Boy Chronicles). The teenage years can be times of insecurity, and that’s part of why we have to address bullying at this age; we need better strategies for dealing with our insecurities than making others look and feel small.

The second similarity I saw is in how Krista and Jimmy responded to the bullying. Their efforts to ignore it (which echoes advice I’ve heard–and given–myself so many times) don’t really cut it; it’s hard to ignore those jibes, especially when they can be so public. So Jimmy and Krista resolve to change their physical selves; Krista obviously does so in a way that’s much less healthy than Jimmy’s. But I’m torn as to these reactions and the message they might send, especially in the case of Jimmy: As he loses weight, he gains confidence and even a new friend in Robb, the football player who had tormented him in the past; while Nate still persists in the bullying, things are definitely looking up for Jimmy at the end of the novel. I applaud him for his choices (he’s healthier, he’s happier) and I’m delighted about the way things have changed for him, but I worry that Jimmy’s story reinforces a belief (which Krista buys into wholeheartedly) that if we just change our outward appearance, people will accept us more.

Sean: Your mixed feelings about Krista and Jimmy’s reactions to bullying raise a major issue that permeates the books reviewed for this column, Jon. In all but one of the books dealing with weight-/size-based bullying reviewed in the bibliography at the end of this column, weight loss by the bullied (either healthy like Jimmy’s or unhealthy like Krista’s) is dramatized as the pathway out of experiencing bullying, rather than greater acceptance of weight/body diversity by the bullies. The message, whether intended or not, that the bullied must change their outward appearance in order for the bullying to stop is problematic in itself, but is problematized further by the broader social discourse surrounding the obesity “epidemic” and a tension between promoting both healthy lifestyles and acceptance of diverse body types. Balancing these imperatives without engaging in fat-shaming, blaming the victim or, at the other extreme, uncritically embracing behaviors that correlate with devastating long-term health consequences is a tension for educators that the Generation Bullied 2.0 authors addressed in our previous column. In some of these books listed below, weight loss leads to less bullying, but in others, the bullying persists. For an excellent write-up of additional YA books featuring overweight or obese characters, but in which weight loss does not drive the plot, we recommend the 2013 Nerdy Book Club column “Top Ten Fat Books” by ALAN Membership Secretary Karin Perry.

Jen:  I had a visceral reaction to both of these novels, probably because they deal with something that I, as a middle school educator, deal with on a daily basis. Bullying is so subversive that teachers struggle to identify it so it can be addressed. And, there is a code of silence among students that is iron clad. No one will point the finger at any peer for fear of retaliation (another issue in the bullying realm) and parents are the first to defend their children and believe whatever they say. To the adult reader, the cruelty in these novels seems almost surreal (what kids do to Jimmy in the locker room and the picture taped to Krista’s locker, just to name a few), but the bullying so often covers an underlying problem of lack of self-confidence in the bully him/herself. It is an age old problem that kids bully each other; however, I believe that we as educators may be going about this the wrong way. We are told to “ignore it,” as Jon said, or that “kids will be kids.”  But, and forgive me if I am waxing philosophical on this point, instead of trying to become the Sherlock Holmes of bullying in schools and instead of trying to be every place at every time and to listen in on every conversation, we need to approach all of it differently. We need to change the climate of our schools and our culture at large. Clearly, we cannot do this alone. By teaching kindness, mindfulness and empathy (http://empathymuseum.com/video), we can begin to show students the proper way to interact with each other in order to become fully functioning adults.

That being said, I also agree with Jon in the sense that I wish Krista and Jimmy had actually learned to love themselves and find confidence before they lost weight as opposed to doing it as a reaction to the bullying. This emphasized self-confidence as a direct result of the drop in pounds. I definitely applaud all of the authors for tackling this issue and entering the conversation.

 

Sean: Parents and teachers figure prominently in both books. Comment on their role as enablers or disrupters of cycles of bullying within the two narratives.

cj: In Picture Me, teachers seem uninvolved in these disruptive behaviors, which is difficult to understand after the events that got Tessa suspended for one week and Chelsea for two. As Tessa keeps pointing out, none of the staff responds to Krista’s injuries or absences. Is this typical? Sometimes, sometimes not. Krista’s parents are concerned about her recovery, but they don’t contact the school for her work. But then, the school does not contact them. It is difficult to understand the apathy–or is it unprofessionalism?–on the part of the school. Tessa’s parents are highly worried about their daughter’s hiding in her room, refusal to eat, and emotional mood swings, but do not seek outside help. This does not fit since her mom is a neonatal nurse and highly involved in the welfare of children. However, leaving the parents out is often the case in YA books; the thinking seems to be, get the adults out of the way and concentrate on the teens. Then, the dysfunction can drive the plot.

In The Fat Boy Chronicles, the parents are very supportive of Jimmy, though his sister is not. The teachers are not, even after the problem has been brought to their attention by Jimmy’s parents. This is typical but also illegal in this time of awareness about bullying and harassment. Besides at home, Jimmy also has a safe place at church and with his teen group, though that support does not seem to influence the climate at school.

Jon: One of the most heartbreaking scenes in Picture Me is when Krista’s dad calls her a princess near the end of the book, as we know he often does thanks to Krista’s account. But for so long, Krista has ignored or questioned the authenticity of his feelings when he calls her princess or tells her she’s beautiful. In this final scene, I feel hope for her because I sense that she’s starting to believe that her dad really means it when he talks about her this way. Without the love and support of a parent (as we see with Chelsea in this book), the challenges of life can be almost too tough to face. For Jimmy, it’s clear that having his father help him with an exercise program and his mother help him with the dieting is critical to the progress he makes. This is nothing new, but both stories showcase the importance of parents in helping teens through challenging times.

Which is why I’m disappointed that Krista’s parents let things go on the way they did for so long. I felt most frustrated with the father–how can he so easily abandon the daughter with whom he had shared regular take-out dinner parties? I’m a father of teeenagers and I know that sometimes what they need most is more space and less meddling, but I would also hope that loving fathers and mothers would be more proactive and concerned in a case like Krista’s. I realize that some of my concern is for nothing–it’s important to the story that Tessa be the one who recognizes when Krista really needs help and that she take on the “adult” role of rescuing her. But despite the conventions of fiction, in some ways I have a hard time seeing a difference between Krista’s mother and Chelsea’s mother in this story. I see symbolized in Krista’s use of the word “okay” to deflect her parents’ concerns a problem that’s at the core of both relationships: a lack of honest, open communication. In both Jimmy and Tessa’s stories, I see open communication between parents and teenager as a critical part of the support that they can offer each other. It’s hard to help someone when you don’t know the nature of the pain and hurt they’re feeling, yet I know from my own experience how hard it can be to share that hurt with parents (especially in cases of bullying).

Jen:  I was more than disappointed in Krista’s parents’ reaction (in Picture Me) to how she spent her days and their lack of intervention once she “holed up” in her room. It didn’t seem normal, despite the trend to get the parents out of the way in YA lit. Like Jon’s children, my teenager needs space a good portion of her days, but I am always checking in with her. Likewise, in school I notice when students don’t seem themselves and ask them about it. It is a fine line for a parent and a teacher between staying away and staying involved. I would have liked to have known that after so many weeks of refusing to return to school or eat, that Krista’s parents would have sought some outside help for her rather than let her waste away in her room. Conversely, I saw Jimmy’s parents (in Fat Boy Chronicles) as supportive and a big reason for him to continue on his weight loss journey. I would like to think that most parents would behave in this way rather than the way Krista’s parents handled her situation.

Like cj, I was also incredibly concerned that no adult at school seemed to notice that Krista was gone or reached out to see what they could do. I found the parents much more realistic and believable in Fat Boy Chronicles, but that doesn’t mean that I think there aren’t parents out there who would handle the situation as Krista’s parents did.

Sean: As Jen mentioned earlier, the degree to which bullying can be carried out under the radar of otherwise perceptive adults is frightening. While we’re not privy to their first-person perspectives in Picture Me, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to believe that teachers were unaware of what was going on between Chelsea and Krista, despite how visible it appears to readers. In my own teaching experience, I was shocked to learn that two students with whom I thought I had a close rapport had experienced stresses similar to Krista’s. They were able to maintain remarkable facades of happiness, stability and high performance, and I thus suspected nothing … until medical intervention was required to save their lives. I suspect most caring educators experience at least one professional slap of the face like this at some point in their careers, and probably at multiple points. This is where I see the value of adults engaging with literature like we’re exploring in this series of columns: to continually calibrate our professional radars to better understand the vast portions of our students’ experiences that are kept hidden from our view, yet shape all of our interactions with them.

 

Sean: Both of these novels feature multiple characters who experience varying degrees of social isolation, both prior to and during their bullying experiences. Indeed, one of the poems Jimmy writes in his English journal in Fat Boy Chronicles directly addresses this theme:               

“Pot, cocaine, speed

Drunk, Lost, Isolated

iPods, Computers, Cell phones

No one to talk to

Parents working

Teachers stressed

It’s just a matter of time

Guns, knives, bombs

Before we self-destruct” (p. 150)

Discuss how bullying is conceptualized as a by-product of declining social capital in these two novels.

Jon: This is a provocative question. In Fat Boy Chronicles, I definitely see evidence of the declining social capital in Paul, Jimmy’s friend who lives in a very dysfunctional family situation. Paul has no family support, and nobody in the system (i.e., school) is looking out for him, so he falls through the cracks, runs away, and ends up losing his legs in an accident far away. Fortunately, his story has a happy ending in the context of the book, but your question makes me think about the bullies in the story (especially Nate and Spencer and the football players). What are their homes like? How have they been taught by their parents? Setting aside for a moment that each of these characters ultimately chooses to bully (which we must never forget), where have things “broken down” for these boys in such a way that they would think this kind of behavior is acceptable?

Ironically, Paul is not a bully (although he does laugh at a prank pulled on Jimmy at a party, he apologizes the next day and clearly feels bad about his actions), even though he might be seen as having less of a help network than kids like Nate and Spencer. On the other hand, the kids at church (including Sable) don’t engage in bullying behaviors (although they don’t actively seek out Jimmy, either), so perhaps there’s some commentary there on the positive role that social institutions can play in preventing bullying behaviors. I appreciated Jimmy’s own introspection about why people like Nate and Spencer might engage in bullying, and I think he sees their insecurities as driving some of their behavior. This makes me wonder how social capital (or a social, supportive network) might prevent bullying–do Nate and Spencer and Robb feel isolated in ways that lead to their bullying? Then why doesn’t Paul engage in similar behavior? As I write this, I’m realizing that the book’s portrayal of this issue is far more complex than I had initially thought, which certainly reflects the complexity of the issue in real life.

I think the portrayal in Picture Me is less subtle, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Chelsea is truly isolated, even though she has friends. She’s so dissatisfied with her life (thanks to the fact that she buys into the glamorous celebrity lifestyles portrayed in the media), and she’s completely disconnected from her mother. I thought the scene where she snaps at the image of Tessa and Annie as happy siblings was very revealing; it’s not hard to picture what Chelsea really wants in her life, which makes her actions all the more pitiful and sad. In fact, at the end of the book I’m the most unsettled by Chelsea’s position. Lacking the most in terms of social capital, she seems in such danger: the only people really looking out for her are those who want to exploit her.

The teachers in both books are, perhaps, easy to characterize as uninvolved and disinterested (and some clearly are), but as teachers we know better than to pass such simple judgments. Teachers and administrators face such pressure in today’s schools, with large numbers of students and external mandates competing for limited resources. It seems unfair to penalize the teachers in these books for failing to notice or for ignoring the bullying, but it also seems unfair to not scrutinize school communities and their role in these events. I’m glad that both books bring these issues to the fore, and as a teacher educator, I’m considering how I might use books like these with my students. I would hope that after leaving our program, our pre-service teachers see their role as nurturer and caretaker as more important than the role of end-of-level-test-preparer.

Jen:  In Picture Me, I thought the portrayal of bullying as a socioeconomic issue was well played out. The fact that Chelsea has a mom who seems disinterested in her as a person fuels her daughter’s fascination with the media celebrities and the older boy who clearly uses her rather than adores her. As I stated earlier, I think the psychological issues behind bullying are immense. Chelsea seems to harass Krista because it makes her feel bigger and better as a person because she doesn’t get the attention she needs from her own mother. Chelsea wants what she doesn’t have both economically and emotionally, so it makes her feel better to belittle those who have different issues (weight) with which they are struggling. Her power then comes from her false sense of self-importance that she gains with the older boyfriend, especially since he helps her exact “revenge” on Tessa.

In Fat Boy Chronicles, Paul clearly grapples with issues of socioeconomic decline, but it seems to be a result of his father’s drinking and decline of his entire family. Different from Picture Me, Paul doesn’t really participate in the bullying per se, but falls into a subplot of his own where he struggles to cope with family issues. He becomes almost a foil for Jimmy in that he is the kid who “went the other way” in how he handled his problems.

Sean: While selecting books and generating prompting questions for this column, I was reflecting on two books by the social scientist Robert Putnam: his now classic Bowling Alone, which traces the decline of social capital in America in the latter third of the 20th century, and his most recent Our Kids, which details the consequences of that decline on the lives and futures of children in the second decade of the 21st century. Jimmy experiences a best case scenario of what we would hope to see happen in the lives of our students who endure bullying, that is, a supportive social safety net via his family and church that empower him to envision an alternative future and support him in forging a plan of action to achieve it. On the other hand, the character arcs of the three girls of Picture Me and, to varying extents, of Paul and the bullies in Fat Boy Chronicles start off largely depleted of social capital and alienated from the social institutions that could help them build the resilience necessary to engage in positive and prosocial responses to their various challenges. Some characters ultimately gain those connections in time to avert the worst case scenario, while others sadly do not. The point is that in Putnam’s analysis, the distance between the best and worst possible outcomes for America’s children in similar situations has been growing to a point where the promise of social mobility is becoming a nearly unattainable dream for increasing numbers of children, whose worldviews are so divergent from those of the more socially privileged as to be alien. This is part of the enduring value of literature that is perhaps more salient today than ever: to grant readers access to the lived experiences of their neighbors, peers and fellow travelers.

 

Sean: Generation Bullied 2.0 makes the following observation about bullying’s impact on the community: “While bullying may appear to impact only the targeted individual, that notion is a myth. Bullying can cause long-term, pervasive, and even life-altering trauma to the bullied , and a community of individuals incur the ripple effect of that incident” (p. 26). While the story of Fat Boy Chronicles is related to us entirely through Jimmy’s English journal, Picture Me features first-person perspectives of three participants in a bullying dynamic: bully, target & witness. What effects do these different narrative styles have in illuminating the phenomenon of bullying and its “ripple effect[s]”?

cj: In Picture Me, the three traditionally identified roles of the bully, the target, and the bystander/witness are represented. They each also seem very stereotypical of the research on bullying. Krista, the targeted character, has little self-confidence due to her poor self-image and defines herself only by her weight issues. Little background is given about her past or intellectual ability. Her family is very loving and the harassment does not happen there, but it does at school and more importantly in her mind, which is often not a safe neighborhood to be in alone, particularly for an adolescent. Self-perception is not often grounded in reality, but in the media, the fashion, and the idolization of thinness.

Chelsea, the attacker, seems to fit the stereotypical image of a bully, with an unhappy home life, a belligerent attitude, and a confused self-image; to others she seems to have a strong self-concept, but as the reader knows, that is not grounded in reality. Bullying others and creating fear in them feeds her need for power. Being able to make others fear you can be a powerful experience because it almost always works. Why give up something that always works? Many–parents, queen bees, star athletes, employers, and drug dealers on the street who are looking for pretty young girls to turn into prostitutes–practice using fear to control others.

Tessa, the bystander, witness, and friend, takes a long time to act. Like most teens, she would rather keep a secret than betray her friend, even when that secret is very dangerous – life-threateningly dangerous. But when her friend is critical and there are no adults around, she acts!

In The Fat Boy Chronicles, Jimmy’s journal gives the reader information on many topics including but not limited to Jimmy’s parents and sister, his friends Allen and Sable, his classmate Paul, his church group, his teachers, and many other things that cross his mind, but he does not seem to beat himself up about his weight or run from or confront the bullies. He is not happy about it, but he does not let it define him. Jimmy is a good kid who thinks. He tries to not just react but to understand and be kind. He is overweight, but he doesn’t disappear into his misery.

Nate, his biggest harasser, seems to lose his evil edge when Jimmy starts losing weight and starts making friends with some of the other athletes. The book is like an after-school special, where everything turns out well in the end.

Jon: cj, your comment about the after-school special made me chuckle; thanks for that! As much as I enjoyed the voice in Fat Boy Chronicles, I do wonder if the ending is too neat. But then I also think that things do end up like that sometimes, and it’s important that we have portrayals of real hope in the literature we read.

Related to your question, Sean, I think what both of these books can do for readers is help them see how interconnected are the events around these bullying incidents and how interconnected are the people involved. Chelsea’s bullying is not random; it’s, as cj notes above, a gambit for power and control. And we get some important insights into those motives thanks to the format Lori Weber chooses for Picture Me. Weber’s choice to allow for three first-person narrators gives the reader an important glimpse into all three roles (bully, victim, and bystander) and, I hope, can help readers develop empathy for all three. What’s really important, though, from these portrayals is what happens for Tessa. Through her experience with Krista but also in what she learns about her father from the soldier who visits their family, she learns that just as Chelsea has responsibility for her actions towards Krista, Tessa has a responsibility, too; in this case, had she not acted in saving Krista’s life and revealing her secret, she would have borne some responsibility for what could have happened. This suggests for me that once we see how the effects of inhumane acts like bullying create these ripples, we can no longer be innocent bystanders; if we choose not to act in some way, we bear some responsibility for what happens.

Jen: If we look at both Picture Me and Fat Boy Chronicles as a paired set, I really love the diversity in the voices. Seeing that the intended audiences are both adolescents, I think these novels together create an entry into the empathy I discussed earlier. The three voices in Picture Me help create a fuller picture for the YA reader in the sense that very rarely do readers get to see inside the head of one who bullies (Chelsea). Exploring the different issues all three young women are dealing with gives a very different perspective on bullying as a whole and the psychology behind it. Not only are Krista and Jimmy dealing with weight issues, but characters around them are also dealing with insecurity, dead/absent parents, alcoholism, abuse, etc. The fact that we have a journal (Fat Boy Chronicles) and three, first person narratives (Picture Me) of the same incident gives adolescents a well rounded look into the multi-layered reasons why people bully and the effects it has on those who are bullied. Perhaps this may be an entry into looking at others with more kindness. I think Atticus Finch said it best:

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (To Kill A Mockingbird, 85-87)

cj: In the media, in books, and in real life the definitions for the bully, the target, and the witness/bystanders have been expanded with the Queen Bee, privileged football players, celebrities, rich people and more. Read Shattering Glass by Gail Giles, in which the bully is the most popular and most powerful guy at school. He decides to choose a newcomer, turn that guy into the most popular guy at school and then bring him down hard! Or in Sharon Draper’s The Battle of Jericho, where Jericho and his cousin are asked to join the Warriors of Distinction, a very old and seemingly prestigious service club. They are highly honored until they are confronted with a hidden initiation that is degrading and dangerous enough for someone to die. Or Josh C. Cohen’s book, Leverage, where the three top senior football players, made elitist by the coaches, the administration, and the entire community, decide to take their steroid-inflamed anger out on the smaller gymnastic team. Or Fight to the End by Australian author David Gregory, which takes place in a “traditional” boys’ school, with the hazing initiation rites that seem to be accepted at such schools. Both Leverage and Fight to the End display institutional bullying in all its ugliness. Or Drowning Anna by Sue Mayfield, set in a British girls school, which opens with Anna’s mother sitting beside her unconscious daughter in her hospital room after Anne attempts and may have succeeded in killing herself, destroyed by her rich, brilliant, beautiful, and jealous best friend. Then there is the movie Mean Girls. The bullies and the targets in all of these examples are far from the earlier “accepted” definitions of these terms. Anyone can become a bully, a target, or the bystander who looks away.

For witnesses or bystanders, check out an amazing small press, Heryin Books, which published Not My Fault, written by Jeff Kristiansson and illustrated by Dick Stenberg. Told in the voices of children witnessing bullying and not knowing what to do, the book ends first with the question “Does it have anything to do with me?” and then black and white photographs from history around the world where the action of bystanders was and is still needed. Or What Happened to Lani Garver, by Carol Plum-Ucci, in which Claire McKenzie tells the story of her friend Lani Garver’s brief stay on Hackett Island, where most of the island is trying to decide if Lani is a he or a she. The book is told in flashbacks after Lani has gone missing.

Sean: Thank you, cj, for the several recommendations that illustrate the diversity of the bully-target-witness dynamic. To conclude our column, we present an annotated list of recent books from small publishers that confront issues of bullying and sizism. Thank you to all of the publishers and authors who shared their works for consideration in this column, and please keep an eye on the ALAN website for the next Under the Radar column in this series.

 


 

Selected Bibliography of Books on Bullying and Sizism from Small Publishers
(
Key: B = Bullying; W = Weight issues, sizism or eating disorders)

  • Big Fat Disaster by Beth Fehlbaum. Merit Press Books, 2014. When her father’s political career comes to a crashing end with revelations of an affair and embezzlement, Colby Denton’s private struggles with her weight and being the black sheep among her photogenic siblings become public, and she experiences bullying from peers and family alike. B W
  • Biggie by Derek E. Sullivan. Albert Whitman & Company, 2015 [ebook edition published by Open Road Media]. The heir to baseball royalty in his small Iowa town, Henry “Biggie” Abbott has never cared for following in his father’s and step-father’s footsteps, until one day he discovers a talent for pitching that causes him to reconsider his options. Having gained weight to avoid engaging with the social life of his school, is he prepared to get in shape and step into the limelight? W
  • Blob by Frieda Wishinsky. Orca Book Publishers, 2010. In the summer before ninth grade, Eve has gained enough weight to strain the relationship with her best friend and attract the attentions of a bully. While attempting to navigate the new social landscape of high school, Eve struggles to resolve the tension between adopting healthy habits and accepting herself. B W
  • Can You See Me Now? by Estela Bernal. Piñata Books, 2014. After her father is killed in an auto accident, thirteen-year-old Amanda seeks the recognition of a distant mother who blames her for his untimely death. A social outcast, Amanda befriends the spiritual Paloma and the overweight Rogelio, fellow targets of a clique of bullies, and comes to learn that “we’re all children carrying around a big load of pain.” B W
  • Diary of a Real Bully by Melody Arabo. Aramoun Publishing LLC, 2014. Anna doesn’t consider herself a bully, because she doesn’t act like the bullies she sees on TV. However, as she contemplates how some of her behaviors have adversely affected the feelings of her classmates, she learns that real bullies aren’t like their TV counterparts – and that they can change – in this picture book by Michigan’s 2014-15 Teacher of the Year. B
  • Elena Vanishing: A Memoir by Elena Dunkle and Clare D. Dunkle. Chronicle Books, 2015. Elena lives with a voice in her head that constantly criticizes her for not being good enough, smart enough, thin enough, perfect enough–the list goes on as Elena fights her way from nearly dying from anorexia to a recovery which will be a rest-of-her-life process. W
  • Fat No More: A Teenager’s Victory over Obesity by Alberto Hidalgo-Robert. Piñata Books, 2012. Alberto, a teenager from El Salvador, turns Obesity from a condition into a character in his memoir, envisioning it as a malevolent spirit that takes control of Alberto’s existence, enabled by family and culture. After experiencing embarrassment and bullying, Alberto commits to a weight loss program, and shares his plan with readers. B W
  • Gabe Johnson Takes Over by Geoff Herbach. Sourcebooks, 2014 [previously titled Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders]. When soda machine profits get redirected from the marching band to a new dance team, overweight sophomore Gabe Johnson suspects a dirty deal and becomes the unlikely leader of student protests. As the movement gains steam, Gabe experiences harassment from bullies old and new. B W
  • Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt. Chronicle Books, 2014. Kevin is a seventh grade bully with a secret talent for writing poetry and a penchant for turning ripped pages from library books into broadsides on middle school life. When his inner life is exposed, the tables are turned and the bully becomes the bullied in this novel in verse. B