My daughter never had any trouble making friends. She’s generous, affectionate, and up to the time she was in second grade, believing every single person in the world was the same way.
Then one day she stopped talking about school. And over the next few days, she became petulant and emotional. (In other words, she was a complete brat.) Lots of tantrums and sulking. Red flag: she stopped eating her baon when usually she’d bring enough to share.
After Lord knows how many attempts to get her to open up, I found out that her friends had stopped talking to her. She knew about bullies -- bad kids, mean kids -- but she didn’t know what to make of people she loved and trusted going out of their way to make her miserable.
We talked a little. We hugged a lot. I approached teachers and parents who basically said, “Kids will be kids, they’ll sort it out.” Eventually, she found other people to play with, but she remained wary. “He’s my friend…today.”
I wondered how to bring up the bullying incident without opening a hole in her heart that I couldn’t close.
And then, I found the book.
Super Ningning is a story about a lonely little girl who is bullied and thinks she needs superpowers to either earn friends or run away from the teasing. Along the way she finds other people who are just as scared or hurt as she is, and she reaches out and helps. It turns out she doesn’t need anting-anting; she needs compassion and kindness. She doesn’t need to be strong and perfect; she just needs people who accept her just the way she is.
“Do you want me to read you a bedtime story?” I asked my daughter.
“You said I was too old for bedtime stories,” she said. “I can read them myself.”
“No, this is a story I want us to read and talk about together.”
I read the story to her. She listens. Then she shakes her head.
“Why are you shaking your head?” I asked.
“Sometimes kids stay mean,” she said. “Sometimes even if you’re nice…really nice…they still won’t play with you.”
I’ll be honest with you. Super Ningning is a beautiful, empowering story that can help kids understand that words can hurt and actions have a consequence. But it will not magically erase the feelings of a child who’s already been bullied.
What it can do is start a conversation. It gives kids who don’t have the emotional vocabulary to explain what they feel a safe way to talk about what they went through.
“I still wish I had superpowers. I still wish I could kick them.” And we talk about anger.
“Does Ningning and her friends still fight? What if they suddenly don’t talk to her?” And we talk about how it’s okay to disagree, but there’s a friendly way to do it.
And we talk about sitting alone in school. And what I went through, and what the authors went through, and it’s really about being okay with who you are.
“You know, the author of the book was also bullied? And she said writing was her superpower,” I said. “Sometimes writing and talking about stuff can make you feel better. I do it all the time.” She looked at me. “How?”
So we got a piece of paper. And she drew her mean friends, and we both had fun putting horns on their heads and giving them green teeth and red eyes.
And I said, “Do you want to write a letter to Ningning?”
“She’s not even real, Mom,” she tells me, rolling her eyes.
“Okay, fine. Do you want to pretend to write a letter to a pretend person?”
“But why?!” she asks.
“Because one day you will meet a nice, friendly, and really wonderful person. And maybe her name will be Ningning or maybe it won’t, but I bet you’ll have a lot of fun with her. What would you say?”
For the first time she smiles really widely. “I would say…Hello, Super Friend.”