Anti-Bullying Week 2018: five books to inspire empathy

With Anti-Bullying Week 2018 kicking off tomorrow (Monday 12th November) and Tuesday 13th marking World Kindness Day 2018, it seems like an ideal time to discuss bullying and the important role that teachers play in preventing/combating it.

According to Ditch The Label, more than half of young people experience bullying. As a result, one in three will self-harm and 37% will develop social anxiety and depression. With these sad statistics, it’s clear to see why they describe bullying as a “national emergency”. So, then, what can teachers do?

R. J. Palacio, author of Wonder, famously stated that empathy is difficult to teach; we must inspire it. I believe that powerful literature can provide this opportunity. Stories can be thought-provoking, impactful and inspirational. The following texts will provoke strong emotions and invite further discussion with your students.

R. J. Palacio, author of Wonder, famously stated that empathy is difficult to teach; we must inspire it. I believe that powerful literature can provide this opportunity. Click To Tweet

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

If you still haven’t read Wonder, where have you been? Add it to the top of your reading list. It’s one of the most powerful books that I have ever read and it makes a wonderful read-aloud with students. Wonder tells the story of Auggie, a boy with facial differences who bravely attends mainstream school for the first time and is sadly bullied. The story is told from various perspectives, which is fascinating and often heartbreaking. The recent film didn’t disappoint whatsoever (I wrote about it in a previous post) but I still recommend reading the book first. It’s a future classic with an emotional punch.

Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud

This is a lovely and meaningful picture book for all ages. The idea is that everyone carries an imaginary bucket that makes them feel happy when full and sad when empty. We can fill buckets by being kind or we can dip into them by saying/doing mean things. The story, with its fitting metaphor, emphasises that our own buckets don’t get filled by dipping into others, but filling other buckets does fill our own. Interestingly, it states that ‘bucket-dippers’ usually act this way due to their own empty buckets. This always reminds me of this important quote (worth discussing with students):

“Be kind to unkind people. They need it the most.”


Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

Thank you, Mr. Falker is another picture book that I would explore with students of any age. Main character Trisha struggles through school and remains illiterate even in the fifth grade. This causes her to be bullied, constantly afraid and feeling worthless. Mr. Falker enters her life, addresses the bullying and finally teaches her by giving up his own time and using alternative methods. This book is a delightful reminder of how much impact a teacher can have if they go the extra mile and believe in their students. At the end of the book, it is revealed that this is the true story of Patricia Polacco, now a published and celebrated author. This is guaranteed to raise an interesting discussion in class. If you and your students are interested, you can find out more about Patricia’s learning difficulties by conducting further research. But she always had the potential and simply required the right person and techniques to unlock it.

Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

This novel is often compared to Wonder (deservingly) and it also reminds me of a longer, novelised version of Thank you, Mr. Falker. Main character Ally continually attempts to hide how ‘dumb’ she is while she and her friend deal with bullies. Again, it is a special teacher that recognises her potential and supports her. It is later revealed that she is dyslexic, something that she learns to be proud of. The book emphasises that great minds don’t always think alike.

“Everyone is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life thinking it’s stupid.”

Fish In a Tree (p. 159)

Character Building Day by Day by Anne D. Mather and Louise B. Weldon

This collection of 180 short stories is worth keeping at hand for Circle Time/PSHE discussions and even in response to incidents. The stories are categorised by character traits and each one is accompanied with relevant and thought-provoking questions that invite discussion and debate. Even with limited time, teachers can utilise this book for ongoing character development. As a teacher, I strongly recommend having this book at your disposal.

What have I missed? If you can think of other powerful books/movies that can inspire kindness and empathy, please share in the comment section below.

For lesson and assembly resources to support Anti-Bullying Week 2018, visit Anti-Bullying AllianceDitch The Label and Bullying UK. To follow up, mark your calendar for Random Acts of Kindness Week, which will be held 18th – 22nd February 2019. In the meantime, don’t forget to promote kindness, respect and empathy on an ongoing basis. Finally (it goes without saying), be sure to model the attributes that you wish to see in your students.

“What we model is what we get.”

Jimmy Casas, Culturize

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  1. Thanks for sharing these valuable resources. The school has a crucial function of teaching kindness and empathy to young learners, especially if they don’t learn it from their homes. Educators thus have to utilize the most apt tools to inculcate good values to their students, and to do it in an engaging and motivating way.

  2. Great post and wonderful ideas, Adam. I agree with you about “Wonder” – a fantastic book. Although I have heard of some of the others, I haven’t read them – yet. I appreciate the quotes you share – inspirational. I look forward to seeing kindness spreading around the globe tomorrow.
    Karen Tyrrell’s Super Bird series of books for 10ish year-olds have strong anti-bullying and empowering messages. Children enjoy reading them.

  3. Excellent suggestions and reads. There are two I never heard of but might have to check out. Hopefully, we as teachers are modeling the exact behavior we expect from our students. Thanks for sharing Adam

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for your comment. I hope that you enjoy the books as much as I do. You have reminded me of another fantastic quote: “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” (W. E. B. Dubois). Perhaps kindness is caught rather than taught.



    1. Hi Tammie,

      That sounds amazing! I’d love to know more. What did it involve exactly? It definitely deserves the time and attention.

      Check out my post about the movie. I was originally against the idea but I ended up loving it! Books will almost always be better in these debates, but it’s a worthwhile adaptation in my opinion. What did you think?

      I have just noticed your blog and I look forward to browsing. Great to connect!



      1. I sent you a message in Twitter. I will send you the information.
        We, as a school, read the book before the movie came out and then we took our Year 2-Year 6 children on a whole school trip to the cinema to watch it a week or so after it came out. The book was powerful and the movie was was as well. For 2 hours, even our most difficult children just sat and absorbed the magnitude of the movie. Our Year Of Wonder definitely had the impact we wanted. A school pupil survey in July 2017 showed that only about 70% of children felt there was little to no bullying in the school. By July 2018, 97% Of the children felt there was no bullying in the school. Similarly, there was a 20% increase in positivity from parents on the same question.

        1. Hi Tammie,

          That’s wonderful. You’re having such a positive impact and the data is reflecting that! Thank you for your message on Twitter. I have replied with my email address and I look forward to receiving more information.

          Thanks again,


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