Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hot Issues, Cool Choices by Sandra McLeod Humphrey

Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity, and Put-downs by Sandra McLeod Humphrey

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 133 pages
Publisher: Prometheus Books (November 20, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1591025699
ISBN-13: 978-1591025696
Source of book: Review copy from publisher

Let's face it, being a kid is difficult--dealing with peer pressure, the desire to fit in, the search for self-identity, etc. Sometimes kids participate in things like bullying and teasing they're really not comfortable doing, but they just don't know how to stand up to other children. Unfortunately, way too many children are on the receiving end of this teasing and bullying which can permanently damage their self esteem and sadly sometimes result in suicide or violence towards others.

Luckily, Sandra McLeod Humphrey's has created a new book to help children learn how to stand up for other children and even for themselves in an effort to staunch the harmful bullying that is seen in schools. Ms. McLeod Humphrey decided to write Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity, and Put-downs when she heard the story of Tommy, a 12-year old boy, who committed suicide because he was bullied. The book is dedicated to Tommy's memory.

Through numerous interviews with teachers, students, and parents, Ms. McLeod Humphrey created a fictional elementary school, Emerson Elementary, and presents over 25 scenarios told from the point of view of children in the school. The scenarios cover a wide range of issues, from name-calling, harassment, peer pressure, rumors, and even suicidal thoughts. At the end of each scenario is a number of thought-provoking discussion questions asking students to talk about what they would do, how the children in story felt, and more.

For example, in the scenario, "No, No, a Thousand Times No!," a boy named Eric is having a Halloween party, and Jeremy, an unpopular boy asks if he can come. Eric believes that if he invites him, he will lose friends, and others will think he's just as "weird" as Jeremy. Questions children are prompted to answer include,
  • "What do you think Eric should do? Why?"
  • "How you feel about Jeremy?"
  • "Do you think Eric will really lose all his friends if he invites Jeremy to his party?"
  • "Do you think Jeremy knows how Eric and his friends feel about him?"
Finally, there's a "Trading Places," question: "How would you feel if you were Jeremy and you weren't invited to Eric's party." (p 32)

It's these "Trading Places," questions that I feel are the most powerful. Putting yourself in someone else's shoes really helps others feel empathy and perhaps enables them to be brave enough to stand up and change destructive behaviors.

The overarching message of the book is to follow "the golden rule" and to treat others the way you'd like to be treated. In the author's final note, Ms. McLeod Humphrey states, "You don't have to be 'best friends' with everyone, but you can still treat everyone with respect and courtesy" (p. 121).

In the fact of the book, you can also find bullying statistics, online resources, and an afterword that includes more information about bullying and action steps bystanders can take to help prevent it.

This book makes a perfect read aloud for teachers and students and parents and children, and is chock full of discussion opportunities that can make a huge difference and perhaps even save lives.

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