Committee for Children Blog

Book Review: Say Something

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by Peggy Moss
Reading level: Kindergarten–Grade 4

The narrator in Say Something is astute and empathic toward the kids in her school who are teased. She watches and wonders about them, picking up on body language that tells her they are sad. She would never make fun of someone the way her schoolmates do. Instead, she feels sorry for them, crosses to the other side of the hall, and doesn’t laugh at their expense. She doesn’t say anything. This seems like the kindest response to the bullying, until one day our heroine finds herself on the hot seat. Her friends are out, and she sits alone at lunch, becoming a target for teasing. That evening, she tells her big brother that she is angry at the kids sitting near her who watched while the others told mean jokes about her.

“Why?” he asks. “They didn’t do anything.”

“Right,” she says. And in that moment, the narrator makes a tremendously important discovery. Saying nothing allows the people who are tormenting others to get bolder and crueler. Saying something to the person getting teased as well as the person doing the bullying helps stop the cycle. On the morning following the narrator’s experience in the lunchroom, she sits next to a girl who is often teased and discovers that making the small effort is worth it—her new friend is funny!

Social and Emotional Lessons in Say Something

The spare text in this thoughtful book belies the powerful message within. The narrator opens with three examples of kids in her school who get harassed, and makes clear that she would never behave that way. But in the girl’s painful description of being teased herself, the reader senses her growing discomfort with her quiet bystander role in the bullying that goes on around her every day. She realizes it’s time to say something.

The title page of Peggy Moss and Lea Lyon’s Say Something includes an African proverb: “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.” Bystanders to bullying have a lot more power than they might realize. The resources in the end pages of the book will give students, teachers, and parents good ways to start buzzing around and making a positive difference. The emphasis is on saying something, anything, to all involved parties. Just saying “hi” to the person being teased can show her and others that she is not alone. A quick few words to the kids who are bullying—“I don’t want to hear that” or “Enough already, let’s get back to the ball game!”—tells them that not everyone in their audience is applauding. A list of organizations and Web sites provides more tools to use in addressing the problem of bullying.

Activity for Say Something

Let students know that teasing happens to everyone sooner or later. Have them close their eyes and imagine they are being teased. Now ask:

  • How would you feel if kids you know just stood and watched while someone picked on you?
  • What would happen if someone walking by saw you being bullied and said, “Hey, cut that out! Come on; let’s race to the end of the playground!”?
  • What would happen if you simply said, “Stop!”?

On a chart, have students brainstorm a list of comments they could make to nip bullying in the bud. It’s important to find words that kids will actually use and that won’t backfire. (We grownups may have great intentions, but let’s face it; it’s impossible to stay up-to-date with the ever-changing word culture among young people!) Encourage them to use humor and a light touch when possible: “That’s so ten minutes ago!” Leave the chart on the wall and allow students to add ideas throughout the year. Remind them that they can make teasing un-cool. If no one laughs when someone makes a joke about another kid, the joke is over.

Emilie Coulter
Book Reviewer
Committee for Children