Books about peer pressure
COMPILED BY DEBORAH RIVLIN, MA
Friends are one of life's great pleasures. But they can be hard to keepespecially among the young, whose tastes, preferences, and self-image change often and unpredictably. Because a sense of belonging is so important to children and teenagers, they may find it easier to keep friends they have at any cost instead of forging new relationships and chancing rejection or disillusionment in the process.
Adults should not underestimate the lure of the sense of belonging that a group offers youngsters. To fit in with peers and keep friends, a young person will often compromise to meet the group's standards. Sometimes these adjustments bring out the best in a personsometimes not. The books described below can help children and teenagers navigate such difficult situations. Arranged by the age group for which they are appropriate, the books touch on how it feels to be left out and the problems of trying to fit in with one's peers. Readers may copy and distribute Bookshelf to families of patients in their practice without permission from the publisher.*
*Editor's note: All other uses of this article require written permission of the publisher.
Barbara Barber: Allie's Basketball Dream. New York, Lee and Lowe, 1998. Allie loves basketball so much that she dreams of becoming a basketball player. She goes to the park to play with a new basketball given to her by her father, only to discover the boys won't join her and the girls tease her and tell her that basketball is only for boys. One boy suggests she should at least trade in her basketball for a volleyball. But Allie keeps practicing, begins to make shots, and eventually shows that girls can play and succeed in basketball. Ages 48.
Stan and Jan Berenstain: Berenstain Bear Scouts and the Sinister Smoke Ring. New York, Scholastic, Inc., 1996. Brother Bear wants to spend all his spare time with the Too-Tall Gang who steal, lie, and smoke cigarettes. With the help of the Bear Scouts and Grandpa, he comes to realize that smoking is addictive and very bad for his health. Ages 48.
Stan and Jan Berenstain: Berenstain Bears and the In-Crowd. New York, Random House, 1989. Queenie McBear is a new bear in town who, besides being bossy, puts other cubs down. Hoping to be included in Queenie's group, Sister Bear sets out to alter herself so she will fit in. Despite strong peer pressure, Sister Bear eventually decides to be herselfno matter what. Ages 48.
[Also Berenstain Bears and The Double-Dare. Ages 48.]
Erik Brooks: The Practically Perfect Pajamas. Delray, Florida, Winslow Press, 2000. Percy, who has problems with peer pressure, is the only polar bear who loves to wear red flannel pajamas with feet in them. Because other bears tease him about this, Percy tries to fit in by putting his flannel pajamas away, but this makes him miserable. His arctic fox friend, Aurora, helps him discover that it is best to be true to yourself. Ages 48.
Melody Carlson: The Day the Circus Came to Town. Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway Books, 2000. Billy's enthusiasm over seeing a circus for the first time is dampened when other boys tease him for wanting to go. At first he decides not to go to please his friends. Then, realizing how much he would regret not doing what he really wants to do, Billy changes his mind. Ages 48.
Helen Lester: Hooway for Wodney Wat. New York, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1999. Rodney is a very shy rat who cannot pronounce the "R" in words and is afraid others will make fun of him for that. After he helps his classmates deal with the class bully, Rodney finds out he doesn't have to say Rs correctly to be liked. To his surprise, his problem actually helped him in this case. Ages 48.
Eve Bunting: Riding the Tiger. Boston, Clarion, 2001. Presented as an allegorical tale with woodblocks by David Frampton, this book tells about Danny, who is pleased that a beautiful tiger prowling around the neighborhood has asked him to ride on his back. Older people in the neighborhood are fearful as they watch Danny ride the tiger, but the young people are all envious. Danny is happy and the center of attention, until he tries to dismount. Danny only wants to play basketball with his friends and help someone in the neighborhood, but the tiger refuses to let him down. Riding the Tiger can be used to discuss difficult issues such as peer pressure and gangs. Ages 710.
Eve Bunting: Your Move. San Diego, Harcourt, 1998. While baby-sitting for his younger brother, Isaac, 10-year-old James takes him to meet a gang known as the K-Bones. James wants to become a member of the group, but Isaac is afraid of them. When the gang tells James to climb up a tall sign and spray-paint the gang name on it, James complies. Then the leader of the rival gang shows up with a gun, which is very frightening to James. Later, when invited to join the K-Bones, James decides not to because he would rather be a good role model for Isaac, who will one day follow his example. Ages 711.
Jamie McEwan: The Heart of Cool. New York, Simon and Schuster, 2001. A polar bear named Bobby North, who considers himself very cool, moves to another schoolonly to discover that a big moose there named Harry is deemed the coolest of all. Bobby tries to compete by giving up his favorite activities and taking up all that Harry doesespecially skateboarding. Unfortunately, Bobby crashes on his skateboard and is teased by his classmates. It doesn't take long for Bobby to understand that coolness is not about copying the habits of others: It is really about feeling confident and believing in yourself. Ages 69.
Marissa Moss: Oh Boy, Amelia! Middleton, Wisconsin, Pleasant Co. Publications, 2001. In a diary-style notebook, 10-year-old Amelia observes her older sister, Cleo, and her friends trying to become ultrafeminine girls. It is especially interesting watching Cleo develop a crush on a boy. Having discovered in her life-skills class that she prefers woodwork to sewing, Amelia asks herself if she must be obsessed about wearing dresses and make-up to be a true girl. Ages 711.
Jerry Spinelli: Fourth Grade Rats. New York, HarperCollins, 1993. Suds and Joey are fourth-graders and best friends. But Suds is now under pressure from Joey to "act his age," which includes making fun of first graders. Suds is caught in a dilemma: Does he have to change himself so his friend will like him? And will he have to "act tough" to be considered "grown up"? Ages 710.
Linda Ellerbee: Girl Reporter Rocks Polls! Get Real #6 New York, HarperCollins, 2000. Casey Smith, girl ace reporter of the "Get Real" young people's novels, covers the student election at Trumbull Middle School in this installment of the series. When someone destroys a candidate's poster and tries to sabotage the election, Casey raises the question of why popular kids are the ones who always get elected. She hopes she can get her fellow students to care about their votes enough to break the pattern and cast their ballots on real issues. Ages 812.
Luis Rodriguez: It Doesn't Have to Be this Way: A Barrio Story/No Tiene Que Ser Asi: Una Historia del Barrio. New York, Children's Book Press, 1999. This bilingual picture book for older children tells the story of 10-year-old Ramon Monchi, who is being pressured to join a gang. Ramon likes solitary activities, such as writing and reading poetry, and hesitates about joining the Encarto Locos gang. Soon, however, he does join the gang to help him fit in and discovers he likes the new-found respect of gang membership at school. When Ramon's cousin, Dreamer, tries to keep him from getting into trouble, she is shot. Dreamer survives, however, and Ramon learns from his uncle what is truly important for him, and leaves the gang. Ages 814.
Trevor Romain: Cliques, Phonies and Other Baloney. Minneapolis, Free Spirit Publishers, 1998. This nonfiction book is for youngsters who have been told they cannot be part of an all-important clique as well as for children who feel trapped inside one. The author discusses what real friendships are like and how to build them. Ages 912.
Jerry Spinelli: Wringer. New York, HarperCollins, 1997. Tradition dictates that all boys 10 years and older must wring the necks of wounded pigeons at the town's annual Pigeon Day Shoot. Palmer dreads turning 10 because he doesn't want to participate; he has even risked taunting and rejection by keeping a wounded pet pigeon hidden in his room. Now, Palmer must decide whether to be a part of the prevailing group or follow his sense of what is right. Ages 912.
Elizabeth Weitzman: Let's Talk About Smoking: Let's Talk Library. New York, Rosen Publ., 1996. When Jamie asks Deena why she smokes, her answer is: "Because all my friends do it and it looks cool." One of a series of books, this volume discusses many issues surrounding smokingsuch as why young people smoke, the presence of second hand smoke, and the harmful effects of smoking. Ages 912.
Eve Bunting: Jumping the Nail. San Diego, Harcourt, 1991. Peer pressure on the California coast leads teens to challenge each other to "jump the nail": Jumping off a dangerous cliff into the ocean. Dru is concerned about her friend, Elisa, who is overly dependent on her boyfriend. When Elisa's boyfriend wants her to jump with him, they do it. Neither is injured, but the emotional upset for Elisa leads to a tragedy. Ages 12 and older.
Robert Cormier: The Chocolate War. New York, Alfred Knopf, 1974. Archie Costello is the leader of a clique, the Vigils, at an all-boys Roman Catholic school. The Vigils are used to getting their own way. The annual fund-raiser requires everyone to sell chocolate but Jerry Renault, a freshman, refuses. The Vigils' leader, Archie, demands that Jerry sell candy, but he won't relent and waits to see what will happen. Ages 12 and older.
Amy Koss: The Girls. New York, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2000. Maya doesn't understand: Why has she been dropped from the group and ostracized by her middle-school girlfriends? Her story is told through the voices of the other girls, who take turns telling readers what happened from their viewpoint. Maya begins to realize she needs to find a true friendone whom she can trust. Ages 1014.
Carol Plum-Ucci: The Body of Christopher Creed. San Diego, Harcourt, 2000. In this mystery, told by 16-year-old Torey Adams, Christopher Creed is the high school's class outcast. When he suddenly disappears, rumors about what happened abound. In a search for answers, some students come to believe that Bo Richardson, one of the tough kids at school, is responsible for Christopher's disappearance. Torey, with his friends, don't believe Bo is responsible and continue trying to uncover what happened. They worry that Christopher was murdered and wonder what secrets some of the adults are hiding from them. Ages 12 and older.
Cynthia Voight: Izzy, Willy-Nilly. New York, Atheneum, 1986. Izzy, who has a very fortunate high school life, is excited about being asked to a party by a senior named Marco. At the party, Marco drinks far too much, yet Izzy still lets him drive her home. They get into a serious accident and Izzy has to have a leg amputated. This book showsin dramatic fashionhow one's life can be radically changed by doing what a friend pressures one to do. Ages 1114.
Bookshelf: Books for young people under peer pressure. Contemporary Pediatrics 2002;6:116.