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Speak Up and Get Along -- Book Review

As my daughter enters third grade, and wades into the world of increasingly complex social interactions, I have been finding myself at a loss for how to help her. There are hundreds of books for parents on understanding "Playground Politics" or "Raising Your Child's Social IQ." While looking into the various options available to grow my toolbox, most of which involve long and involved guides that I have bought but haven't had time to read, I was excited to find a book, "Speak Up and Get Along," on Amazon listed as written for children 9-12 that speaks directly to children with strategies for social interactions. I wrote the publisher, and received a review copy, hoping to share with you that I'd found a great resource for elementary school parents and kids having common social challenges.

Authored by Scott Cooper, an anti-bullying advocate with varied experiences mentoring and teaching children, this approximately 100-page book is written for kids, broken up in short, effective sections and organized by type of issue and strategy. It is subtitled "Learn the Mighty Might, Thought Chop, and More Tools To Make Friends, Stop Teasing and Feel GOOD About Yourself."

The basic topics include assertiveness, making friends, conflict, bullying, blame and taking responsibility and controlling and channeling negative thoughts and feelings. The book has frequent black and white illustrations that serve to break up the text and sometimes do an excellent job conveying the attitude and tone with which certain verbal strategies should be used.

The text does a good job representing diverse children mostly through the use of a range of names that could be from various ethnicities. It's nice that every kid in examples wasn't names Bob or Mary, but more often Jamel or Chia, for example. The drawings display faces of various hues, shapes and styles.

I found this all extremely promising. However, I have several reservations about this book, and have hesitated so far in giving it to my nearly 8-year old daughter. Now, I will concede that the book is listed from ages 9-12. However, her school has multi-age classes and is young for her grade, so many of her friends are turning or have already turned 9. The grades have a great deal of interaction, so she is conceivably dealing with the issues this book addresses. But I feel that here the book came up short.

The text is absolutely written for a 9-12 year old reading level, or possibly even a bit lower. But the content, in my opinion is above the heads of 3rd-6th graders and seemed more appropriate for junior high or even high school students. There were lots of issues taking place around lockers, not a common elementary school fixture and even a reference to a child getting in trouble for storing a friend's cigarettes in a backpack. I'm not ready for my suburban elementary school daughter to read about those issues that aren't close to her reality. The examples in the book were often fairly extreme featuring really hateful kids being awful to others. Now this may be the authentic experience of some kids, but I felt the book was represented as offering more general tools for more mundane problems.

Even though the author covers a lot of really important issues and examples of situations, I think there are very few children who can relate to very many of them, or at least I'd hate to think most children are dealing with the full range of these issues.. mine certainly is not, despite her daily trials.

I didn't find much help for her here with basic playground issues of being excluded by other girls, feeling left out or treated in some way unfairly. I didn't find much about negotiating cliques. I found no support for my challenge to my daughter to try to take the high road or not to "pay forward" mistreatment onto others to try to regain feelings of powerfulness. There just didn't seem to be a lot for these more mundane issues where kids feel their life is just so unfair and awful even though it's hard for the adults around them to take their "little problems" seriously.

I do feel like there is a lot of good strategy in this book and it is well-written and accessible. The best part of the book was dealing with how children feel about themselves and remembering that is what really matters and how they can help that be under their control. But it just didn't offer the sort of every day playground negotiation help I was hoping for.

Futher, some of the strategies just didn't feel authentic to me. It's nice that in the book the bigger, popular kid cutting in line eventually gives in, but I just don't trust that would really happen. And some of the bulling strategies like the "mighty might" - agreeing with a bully to disarm them seem to have ignored the part where the teasing kid runs around the playground yelling "Ha! Nathan admitted he smells! He knows he is gross and he doesn't care. Run away!" and Nathan feels worse than ever. I'm not psychologist, but I don't think I want my daughter to try that strategy.

With a price point under $10 and a short read, if parents have children in more of the upper elementary grades, or in a "rougher" school than my daughter, it certainly might be worth a read to see if it is more authentic to your child's experience than mine, but unfortunately, I think I need to keep looking for a better fit for her needs.

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