Book Review: The Red Pig

I recently met Kelly Ann Guglietti, a wonderful children’s author with a passion for helping children build their self-esteem and empathy to help protect them against bullying.

The Red Pig is a wonderful book of hers for early elementary school children. In addition to the story, there is a section at the end of the book filled with activities and questions for children to answer about how to deal with bullying. The questions are a great way to help children think about how they can create a safe social culture in their school or community center.

The story is about a pig, Cyrus Bacon, who lives on a farm with other animals. He is red because he is angry about being bullied. In his anger, he starts to bully those who have been unkind to him. Realizing that this is only making the other animals angry, he decides to change his ways. He begins by volunteering to help the other animals plan an anniversary party for Farmer Ray and his wife Adelia. At first no one wants him to help. However, once he apologizes for being rude to them, he is invited to be a part of the anniversary party team.

The story is realistic in that a person being bullied will sometimes start to bully others. Cyrus could have continued to be bitter and resentful towards the other animals, but he chooses to end the cycle of bullying by taking responsibility for his actions. By being the one to change, he changes the social culture.

I wish the farm animals in the story had not bullied Cyrus to begin with, but I am very proud of Cyrus. His kinder behavior stops the cycle of bullying that all the characters have been trapped in for a long time.

Learn more about Kelly Ann’s books at: https://www.kelly-ann-guglietti.com

Kelly Ann Guglietti, with her book The Red Pig

Modeling Kindness For Children Prevents Bullying

Without a doubt, children see and hear much more than adults realize. When children watch adults interacting with each other, it is their first glimpse into what is acceptable behavior.

When we are around children, but talking to adults:

  • Do we listen to others with compassion?
  • Do we change the subject when someone is incessantly gossiping?
  • Are we respectful and kind, regardless of whether they are a CEO or a janitor?

No one is perfect at relationships, but if we work hard to listen to friends and treat others with respect we will prevent bullying by modeling these pro-social behaviors for children. Not to mention, these positive behaviors will also help us to have more inner peace and healthy relationships!

Stop Bullying Before it Starts with Compassionate Communication

When children or adults are rude to someone, there is a natural reaction to justify that behavior. Such as, “I told them their idea is terrible because it is!” Whether it was a terrible idea or not, telling someone how wrong they are will certainly not solve the problem. Why not ask the person some questions about her perspective on this “terrible idea”? I find that when I stop being judgmental and start understanding the person’s perspective my compassion increases, which opens up a healthy dialogue with that person and allows the two of us to find solutions. This dialogue also increases our ability to work together as a team in the future.

When children (or adults) are caught bullying others, be prepared for a list of reasons that they feel totally justified in their behavior. When we are angry and lashing out, we need to be reminded to:

  1. Learn to deal with anger in healthy ways, like journaling or talking with a trusted friend.
  2. Be open and honest about our role in conflicts with each other
  3. Apologize when we are acting like bullies, and
  4. Make amends. This is not just about saying “I’m sorry,” but rather about being more considerate and kind in the future. Even if most of a situation is not my fault, apologizing for my part in the conflict has led to peace and healing in several of my challenging relationships with friends and co-workers.

This is all easier said than done, but the more we work at these steps, the more productive and fun our time will be with others. Otherwise, one person’s bad attitude can justify repeated bullying attacks, which can escalate over time. Conflicts will always continue to arise in life, but with respect and clear communication, we can work together to resolve issues peacefully.

William Blake wrote about conflict escalating in his poem A Poison Tree. You can find this poem in many collections of his work, including Poetry for Young People – William Blake, which is ideal for children ages nine to twelve. This is a great poem to discuss with children to get them talking about how to deal with conflict and the consequences of letting problems escalate.

A Poison Tree

I was angry with my friend; 
I told my wrath, my wrath did end. 
I was angry with my foe: 
I told it not, my wrath did grow. 

And I waterd it in fears, 
Night & morning with my tears: 
And I sunned it with smiles, 
And with soft deceitful wiles. 

And it grew both day and night. 
Till it bore an apple bright. 
And my foe beheld it shine, 
And he knew that it was mine. 

And into my garden stole, 
When the night had veild the pole; 
In the morning glad I see; 
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

-William Blake

What can we learn from Robert Frost about opportunities to build friendships?

The Pasture

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring; 

I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away 

(And wait to watch the water clear, I may): 

I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too. 

I’m going out to fetch the little calf 

That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young, 

It totters when she licks it with her tongue. 

I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too. 

-Robert Frost

At the age of 23 I started graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. I had been through a lot of bullying in my life and didn’t trust many people. And here I was, in a new city were I didn’t know a soul. I slowly began to meet people and one day early in my time there, a woman I had met in my classes called me and said, “I free today, want to do something?” “Yes” I replied. At the time it struck me that I wouldn’t have had the courage to make that simple request of someone.  We became good friends and to this day I appreciate the fact that she reached out.

Sometimes all it takes is an invitation to open someone up and begin a great friendship. The simple act of invitation is why The Pasture is such an important poem for children and adult alike to ponder.  While most people do now live in cities and have different chores, the simple act of the speaker inviting someone into their daily experience is filled with serenity and kindness. Serenity in that there is no complaining about what the speaker has to do and kindness in wanting to share that peacefulness with someone else.

I read this poem for the first time with my parents as a child and I was struck by the gentleness of the speaker and the peacefulness of the world that child describes. In my 30s I taught children in Memphis about Robert Frost and used the Poetry for Young People – Robert Frost book as a reference. 

The book is ideal for 8-14 year olds and this poem in particular opens the door to discuss invitations we can make to grow and strengthen friendship. This poem doesn’t end with the other child saying “yes” although I would like to believe she did. However, even if she didn’t, it was well worth the effort of the child speaking in the poem to say, “You come too.” Because an invitation to spend time with someone is a great gift we all can give another human being. It allows us to communicate clearly to another person that they are important and valued.

Activities for Parents and Teachers:

In Poetry for Young People – Robert Frost, a couple of lines of commentary are included about this poem. The book’s editor explains that this poem is an invitation, but also that “Frost is…asking his reader to come into his world —a world of pastures, leaves, spring, and young calves newly born.” Ask children if they would say “yes” to the speaker of the poem and why.  

While most of us don’t have access to a farm, invite your children to a green space, a park or national wildlife refuge, to see a grassy area or stream for themselves. Talk about the fish and birds that use the area for habitat. Ask each child to invite a friend to attend, just like Robert Frost did.

Questions for the day for discussion or journalling:

When was a time that someone invited you somewhere fun?  How did you feel when they asked you?

Do you know someone who you could get to know better by inviting them to hang out with you?