"Chrysanthemum" by Kevin Henkes, a Children's Book About Verbal Bullying
Chrysanthemum Story Summary
by Kevin Henkes is one of the all-star books of the children's literary world. Kevin Henkes's title character is a cute little mouse with a very big name. Chrysanthemum loves her name, and can even spell it, but when she goes to school, she is mercilessly teased by a group of nasty little mouselets who use her name as an excuse to pick on her. Chrysanthemum
Mr. Henkes really gets what it is like to be teased in a world where children can be terribly cruel at a very young age.
Chrysanthemum goes home each night to her caring and concerned parents, who tell her she is winsome and winning, and although Chrysanthemum is reassured that she is the center of her parents' universe, her parents' concern doesn't solve the problem. Finally, at school, Chrysanthemum meets a fabulous new music teacher whom all of the mouse children adore. Ms. Twinkle is a ray of sunshine and is adored by all the children in the class. When she produces a musical play, Chrysanthemum is chosen to be a daisy.
When Chrysanthemum confides in her teacher about the way the other children are teasing her, Mrs. Twinkle restores Chrysanthemum's confidence and makes her the envy of all her peers.
Chrysanthemum and Teasing at School: What Makes This Book an All-Star
Chrysanthemum is one of my all-time favorite children's books. The story is written in a way that will appeal to children, parents, and their teachers. Kevin Henkes' story about teasing is a success because the author understands his subject and presents it in an entertaining way that invites sympathy for the child being teased. The title character of this story begins as a carefree and happy-go-lucky girl whose parents dote on her. She loves her name. In the story, she repeats her name to herself in a sort of sing-song melody that conveys complete and total contentedness with herself and her small familial existence. But when Chrysanthemum is teased by the other girls at school, her innocent and happy-go-lucky world is shattered. She becomes embarrassed and distressed by her unusually long name. Chrysanthemum's parents continue to do what they have always done, which no longer works. Now that Chrysanthemum's world has grown to include the school environment, her parents no longer can offer the kinds of reassurance that they once did. When Chrysanthemum's ebullient music teacher chimes in with her own long floral name, Chrysanthemum's confidence is restored. The other mouse girls at first envy, then copy, then accept Chrysanthemum.
Even though the characters in Henkes stories are only about two inches tall, the characters' have experiences that most school-aged children will be able to relate to. Henkes shows a real understanding and empathy for a child who is in a teasing or bullying situation. I always get a bit choked up for Chrysanthemum. The parent in me feels no child should have to be exposed to this unpleasant aspect of life in a public school. Although this story has a happy ending, many children who are teased at school don't experience such happy endings. This book could help you begin a dialogue in a classroom setting about teasing or bullying, and to set expectations about classroom behaviors. Other books about bullying address the topic in a more direct way, but this book is an excellent one to share with an elementary school classroom because its humor and tone are lighthearted, and the ending is not only happy, it is jubilant.
Children's Names Are An Important Part of Their Identity
Another book about the importance of a child's name is Arlene Mosel's Tikki-Tikki-Tembo. This other fanciful "pseudo fable" is a classic children's story that can help you explore your discussion of teasing into a different direction of personal identity and stereotypes. Compare this title with My Name is Yoon or The Name Jar, a book I strongly recommend as a title to pair with Tikki Tikki Tembo.
Using Chrysanthemum As Part Of An Anti-Bullying Curriculum
Read this book at the beginning of the school year and then have a discussion in your classroom about teasing. Here are some of the questions you could ask:
- What problem did Chrysanthemum have in this story?
- Why do you think the other kids teased her?
- Do you think Chrysanthemum would be a good friend? Why or why not?
- Have you ever been teased at school or somewhere else? What happened?
- How did you feel when you were being teased?
- Have you ever seen another kid being teased in class?
- What could you do about it? Should you tell the teacher? Talk to the child who is teasing?
- Is teasing other kids a form of bullying? Why or why not? (Chrysanthemum is a victim of Verbal Bullying in this story.)
After several students have shared experiences, ask for some suggestions on how to handle teasing. Explain that your classroom will be a teasing-free zone.
More Bullying Prevention Sources
An Educator's Guide to Combat Bullying and Bully Prevention is a website designed for teachers and educators. The site has an up-to-date bullying vocabulary guide, including a definition of bullying, and what it means to be a bystander, a defender, It includes Bullying Prevention Vocabulary that you may want to review and incorporate into your lesson plan or classroom reading of this story.
#1 Instructional Lesson for All Students On Bully Prevention summarizes the bullying circle and includes information geared to older elementary school children.
- Violence Prevention Works
© 2009 Carolyn Augustine