Committee for Children Blog

Book Review: Just Kidding

By Trudy Ludwig
Reading Level: Grades 1–4

D.J. wants to be a good sport. As the new kid at school, he’s happy to be included by Vince and the other boys, but when Vince’s funny remarks start having an edge, D.J. is not laughing. He’s confused and hurt. As he says, his friends at his old school “would joke around with me, but they never made me feel like I was a joke.” Whether he’s making fun of D.J.’s clothing or his athletic ability, Vince repeatedly ignores D.J.’s words, feelings, and body language to cross the line from teasing to taunting.

When D.J. finally has had enough, he first seeks solitude, then shares with his father what’s going on with Vince. Dad offers this piece of wisdom: “[Y]ou may never know exactly why kids like Vince are mean to you. But I do think it has more to do with what’s going on with him than with you.” Insights like this, though thoughtfully intended, might feel empty if not backed up with substantial solutions. Dad and D.J.’s brother Nick show D.J. one way to deflect hurtful teasing with silly humor. Although this technique is successful the first time he tries it, D.J. admits that Vince continues to bother him. He and his father approach D.J.’s teacher, Mrs. Winter, who rounds out their strategy with some suggestions and actions of her own.

Social and Emotional Lessons in Just Kidding

D.J. does many things right in Trudy Ludwig’s companion picture book to My Secret Bully. When he begins feeling upset by Vince's behavior, he tells him to stop. When that doesn't work, he leaves and tells a trusted adult—two, in fact. His father is supportive; however, the game he teaches D.J. is not one we would recommend. It's important for teachers to recognize that although using humor to defuse a situation can sometimes be a valuable tactic, the game they play is risky, as the players end up modeling name-calling and bullying. In addition, many kids, D.J. included, may not be quick enough on their feet to produce a witty comeback.

One of Ludwig’s strengths is in providing excellent role models for adults and children dealing with social and emotional issues. D.J.’s dad is helpful and sensitive; he knows when to push and when to back off. Similarly, Mrs. Winter is a dream teacher. She acknowledges D.J.’s problem, expresses appreciation to D.J. and his father for bringing it to her attention, lets them know that she will have the counselor work with Vince, and suggests to D.J. that he hang out with friends who make him feel good about himself. Finally, she gives him an important distinction when he worries about being a tattletale: “Tattling is when you’re trying to get someone in trouble…Reporting is when you’re trying to help someone in trouble.”

Classroom Activity

The notes and discussion points at the end of the story provide additional meaningful semantic differences, in this case between teasing and taunting. Teasing can be a lighthearted way to show affection and be playful. When a joke is made at someone else’s expense, or when it is obviously embarrassing or hurtful, it crosses the line into taunting, “a form of psychological bullying that can have devastating, long-term negative effects on a child’s sense of self.”

Vince claims he is “just kidding” when D.J. gets upset with him. Ask students if they believe him, and why or why not. Have children write two lists. One will include taunting types of behaviors—keep it general—such as “making fun of someone’s clothing” or “calling people names because of the way they look.” The second will include behaviors that truly are intended to be “just kidding” teases: “giving people nicknames,” “laughing along with someone when they tell a funny story about themselves.” Discuss how easily the items on the second list can cross over to the first list depending on how the teaser intends the comments, and how the recipient feels. For example, one child might love to be nicknamed, but another might feel offended or annoyed. How can you be sure someone is enjoying being teased?