What You Need to Know:|
• The harsh realities of middle school bullying are highlighted in this book about a group of 6th graders.
• It reminds us that this type of behavior exists within groups of boys and girls, but it can differ by gender.
• The story is told from different character's perspectives, sometimes in the first person and sometimes from the third.
• Check out the discussion guide from Nora Raleigh Baskin's website.
• To learn more about Nora Raleigh Baskin, visit Publisher's Weekly for an interesting interview with the author.
• Runt can serve as a great beginning for conversations about bullying and how we address it in our schools.
The middle school years can be pretty miserable for some kids, and Runt does a very good job of capturing the dynamics that make this time period so complicated. From dysfunctional families to cliques in school and individual insecurities, the story conveys the varied circumstances that can result in bullying. As the book makes clear, middle school often evokes a survival of the fittest mentality just like in the animal kingdom, and the kids' behavior in school usually reflects what's going on at home.
In the case of Runt, the kids can be downright cruel. At the same time, their teachers are mostly oblivious and ineffective, and their parents seem to either encourage the behavior or are simply unaware of it. The story focuses on everyday life for a group of 6th graders dealing with typical middle school concerns like popularity, sports, and homework. Readers get to know this random mix of students who aren't really friends, but impact one another's lives on a daily basis. The chapters shift back and forth between school and home and between a variety of characters.
Maggie is your standard mean girl. One of her main targets, Elizabeth, is painfully insecure unless she's attending to the dogs that her inattentive mother boards in their house. Elizabeth doesn't realize that Maggie, whose parents are rarely home, is also lonely. Maggie and Freida used to be best friends, but went their separate ways when Maggie moved on to the popular crowd. Allison worries about pimples, her braces and her weight. Ethan worries about his status, acknowledging that if he doesn't participate in the bullying he will likely be the next victim. And then there's Matthew who's been mistreated by Stewart for years, saving his seat, listening to his insults, and obeying his orders. Matthew finally snaps and Maggie eventually goes too far in her bullying, but do either of their actions result in any change in the group dynamics?
Although it can be confusing to keep track of which character is talking, their different perspectives offer valuable insight into why kids behave the way they do. The way these kids communicate, whether in text messages, on social media, or in realistic dialogue, lends to the authenticity of this portrayal of middle school life. While one character does stand up for himself, and one chooses not to sink to the level of those who bullied her, the story simply captures a moment in their lives. That too is pretty realistic, as it reflects the way middle school kids often move on or ignore the bullying around them. Although, this book is definitely a great springboard for conversations about bullying, some kids may find the topic either too close to home or too much about the negative side of the middle school years.
Nora Raleigh Baskin
2013, 208 pages
Animals, Bullying, Cliques/Popularity, Friendship, Good Book Club Selection, School
• Which character in the book did you relate to the most?
• What do you think is the meaning behind the title?
• Do you think that this story gives an accurate portrayal of what goes on in middle school?
• How effective or ineffective are the adults in the story?
• What could or should the adults have done differently?
• If you don't join in to the bullying, will you be the next one bullied?
• In what ways is the basketball coach also bullying the kids?
• What do you think of ideas like the "Bully Box" or assigning seats in the cafeteria? Do those things help?
• Does revenge help make anyone feel better?
• Are the social dynamics any different at the end of the story?
• If you could rewrite the ending, how would you do it?
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