I love school. I mean, love love school. I always have.

Although to be honest, I was never the cool kid. I think my bad haircut, over-sized earrings and banana yellow high-tops (I know!) kept me safely out of that category. However, I had a close group of friends, felt connected to many of my teachers and was fortunate enough to have some truly unique classroom experiences. I knew that I belonged and could be successful.

In fact, school felt like such a comfortable place that I decided to teach and, following college, moved on to teach first grade in Harlem. I still wasn’t one of the cool kids in the faculty lounge, but I had a close group of friends, felt connected to my students and was fortunate enough to (I hope) create some unique and memorable classroom experiences for my little friends. I felt that I could be successful.

Now I am sending my daughter to school, and it feels like someone has chopped my heart in half, put it on a bus and driven it away to be taken care of by a group of adults that I don’t know very well yet. I lay awake hoping that school will be a comfortable place for her, that she will find her close group of friends, feel connected and be a part of engaging learning experiences. I want her to feel successful. She is a sensitive little soul with a flair for the theater (not sure where she got that from) and a love of books. She is excited to make new friends, learn from her teachers and finally be part of this One Kathryn Otoshibig-kid thing we call school.

But, a bully can change all of that.

If there is one thing I have learned as a student, teacher and mother, it is that all the reading strategies in the world don’t quite add up to enough if there isn’t a sense of joy and belonging in the classroom. Without these two key elements, children are more afraid to take a risk, to try something new, to be themselves and to engage meaningfully with their peers. School should feel like a home away from home, and I know that, for myself, I want this home away from home to be a happy one. Happiness and rigor are not (and should not be) mutually exclusive terms.

Perhaps as a result of my uber-nerdy roots, one of the best ways I believe we can establish and maintain a sense of joy and belonging is by sharing and reading stories. To me, stories are magical. Curling up with a good read aloud has always been my go-to strategy for initiating difficult conversations, calming a rowdy group, inspiring children to share their own stories or building a sense of community.

It helps that I am very passionate and particular about what I choose to read with my students. I select books purposefully and only share those I love. I believe my love of reading shines through during a read aloud—a love I hope to pass on to my students (and children) through this special ritual.

However, as an added bonus, I find that my students are often very relaxed, open and thoughtful during our read-aloud time. They are in the perfect mind frame for tackling a difficult issue such as bullying. When using an absolutely amazing book such as One by Kathryn Otoshi (Grades P-2), it is my goal that most children will somehow see themselves reflected in the characters of this book. Perhaps they, too, have picked on someone else in order to feel better about themselves. Or maybe they have been on the receiving end of bullying, stood by and done nothing as another was bullied, or taken a stand in an effort to end bullying. Regardless, this book has it all and provides a platform for children to examine this issue from a variety of standpoints. It may, if we’re lucky, inspire students to share their own stories.

Of course each school has its own policy for dealing with bullying. And of course, most teachers have addressed this issue, explained the policy and perhaps talked directly with their students about strategies for dealing with a bully. These are all necessary steps. However, I would argue that addressing this issue through strong, clear read alouds is also necessary.

I want my daughter and my students to care about the stories other people share. I want them to be able to consider the point of view of another person and consider how their actions may impact the story of a peer. To do that, they need to hear the stories of others. In the uber-nerdy mind of a reading teacher, it all begins with reading a book together.

If you’re interested in some of my other favorite titles to use around bullying, here goes:


Check out my blog for more posts just for teachers: It’s Not All Flowers and Sausages