Respect takes wing

Bird ChildIn Bird Child, the beautiful newcomer by Canadian teacher Nan Forler, birdlike Eliza has a wise mom who gifts her as an infant with a lifelong skill: wings to fly. This includes not only the ability stay positive, but also the ability to see solutions to situations and choices for conflicts. Her mantra? Look down and see what is. Now look up and see what can be. When you first read it with your students, find out what they think that means because it will be important when you see it again.

When Lainey, the new student at Eliza’s school, is targeted by a group of bullies, Eliza initially freezes, stands by, and watches. When Lainey doesn’t return to school, Eliza does some serious soul searching. With a gentle reminder from her mom about sharing her special gift, Eliza figures out how to help her new friend. Fact meets fantasy, and Eliza flies to Lainey’s house to show her how to be all she can be. Eliza then spreads her wings and stands up for Lainey at school the next day, helping put an end to the bullying behaviors. On the second-to-last page, Lainey rolls a ball of snow, so I stopped to ask the students to make a prediction: What’s Lainey going to do with that snowball? This sparked a great debate on whether or not it would be a good character choice for her to pitch it at the bullies as they walk away.

Research suggests that new students are the most likely target for bullies. This story will serve as a springboard for an insightful discussion about respect for differences as well as a LINK (Let’s Include New Kids) discussion about how to Be A Buddy, Not A Bully or a Bystander. After you read about the bullying incident in the schoolyard, ask students: What kind of school does Lainey attend? My students’ responses ranged from “an un-character school” or “a non character school” to “a mean school,” “a school where bullying is allowed,” and “a boarding school.” Interesting!

How would Lainey’s school experience have been different if Eliza had done something to help right away? What about if Eliza had joined in on the teasing or taunting? What about if she had done nothing at all?

Have students give specific examples of how Eliza befriended Lainey. Then ask them: What do the words bystander and ally mean? Who in the book was an ally or upstander? Who were the bystanders? What could these students have done differently? Ask students to talk about a time they’ve been in a bullying situation, either as the bully, the target, or the bystander. What common feelings come out?

We’re going to end our lesson by dancing with the The Chicken Dance motions that students learned in physical education classes, but using these bullying-prevention lyrics that I wrote:

Chorus (4X): If a bully bothers you, and you don’t know what to do, out at recess or in school, talk, walk, then tell.
Verse: I’ll be a buddy, not a bully. I’ll be a friend and take a stand. I can swarm or go get a grown up so we can all lend a helping hand.

This gem is a literary dream, filled with alliteration, metaphors, and sparkle words. “What does nestle mean?” my students wanted to know. So I asked them, “Why did the author choose the word nestle instead of hold?”  The illustrations by François Thisdale are amazingly eye-catching, and they mesh fact and fiction nicely. If you want more ideas on how to integrate this treasure into your curriculum, visit the author’s website and download the comprehensive Teachers’ Guide.

* Also check out this round-up of all of our recent book reviews.

Barbara Gruener is a school counselor at Westwood Elementary in Friendswood, TX, a winner of the 2009 CEP National School of Character Award. For more information on Westwood’s program, visit its website.