An Exploration of Jason Reynolds’s Track Series: Bullying Themed Contemporary Realistic Fiction Supports Bullying Reduction Strategies for Middle School Youth


Dr. Hill is a Professor of Reading and Language Arts in the College of Education, Health, and Human Services at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. You can learn more about Dr. Hill here. You can also read the full article, "A Critical Examination of African-American Youth Athletes in the Track Series" in Multicultural Education.    

Reynolds, Track Series

Middle school youth will likely experience some variation of bullying at school, given the general uptick in peer victimization during the middle school years (Ballard, 2022; Goldweber, Waasdorp, & Bradshaw, 2012; Swearer, Espelage, Vaillancourt & Hymel, 2010; Woodall & Jenkins, 2023), with the greatest prevalence in 6th and 7th grade  (Devoe, Peter, Noonan, Snyder & Baum, 2005). Bullying contributes negative effects on adolescents’  mental health, physical health, and academic achievement  (Ballard, 2022; Goldweber et al., 2012; Waterman, 2023).  Moreover, research suggests that African American youth are more likely to experience bullying on the basis of clothing and physical appearance, less likely to seek help from adults, and more likely to experience depression because of bullying (Ballard, 2022; Goldweber et al., 2012; Shirley & Cornell, 2012). The prevalence of bullying among youth in schools in communities of color (Ballard, 2022; Goldweber et al., 2012; Swearer et al., 2010; Waterman, 2023) and everywhere else presents a call for bullying reduction strategies. Bibliotherapy is a dialogic strategy that calls for engagement in discussion of literature that  portrays relatable problems, in the endeavor of mitigating anxiety and promoting strategies for learning lessons (Moulton, 2011; Trent & Richards, 2018; Woodall & Jenkins, 2023). It is therefore logical to apply bibliotherapy to bullying themes in young adult literature that ultimately supports bullying reduction strategies.  

My daughter was on the receiving end of bullying and microaggressions in 7th grade in an elite school setting, consistent with the common convention of increased incidents at her school, which resounded claims among many 7th grade families in our community.  Jason Reynolds’s Patina  portrays the experience of a female African American elite track runner who, similar to my daughter, is  African American and experienced bullying and microaggressions in an elite school setting. The portrayal of similar incidents, coupled with managing the demands of competitive sports (my daughter is a competitive gymnast) presented opportunities for bibliotherapy, including text-to-self connections and a source of deep reflection and healing.  Patina  is one of four novels in the Track Series. My first contribution as a guest writer for the Center for Literacy Education will center around my examination of the Track Series as a valuable source of contemporary realistic fiction for supporting bullying reduction efforts for middle school youth. 

Jason Reynolds’s critically acclaimed the Track Series is highly recommended for secondary school administrators , teachers, youth, and families across the nation who are grappling with how to mitigate bullying and to support a deeper understanding of  intraracial diversity in school communities.  Each novel in the series chronicles the experiences of the Defenders who are economically diverse  African American elite track runners and  is titled after its protagonist, Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and Lu.  Throughout the series, the protagonists inform about the challenges and rewards of being a student athlete, on and off the track. With the support of their coach,  they unlearn stereotypes about each other on  the basis of where they live and what they look like.  Through this process, the protagonists narrate their stories in first person point-of- view, become a family,  and experience self-discovery, particularly as they are featured in each others’ stories.  Each novel concludes with a Reading Group Guide with discussion questions that encompass strategies for bullying reduction.  I invite you to read my recently published article in the Multicultural Education Journal, entitled  A Critical Examination of African-American Youth Athletes in the Track Series:  Lessons About Intraracial Diversity and Bullying Reduction.   


Ballard, D. M. (2022). School Bullying in African American Adolescents: An Examination of  Contributing Factors. The University of Alabama.

DeVoe, J. F., Peter, K., Noonan, M., Snyder, T. D., & Baum, K. (2005). Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2005. NCES 2006-001. National Center for Education Statistics.

Goldweber, A., Waasdorp, T.E. & Bradshaw, C.P. (2013). Examining Associations Between Race, Urbanicity, and Patterns of Bullying Involvement. J Youth Adolescence 42, 206–219.

Moulton, E., Heath, M. A., Prater, M. A., & Dyches, T. T. (2011). Portrayals of bullying in children’s picture books and implications for bibliotherapy. Reading Horizons: A Journal of Literacy and Language Arts, 5(2), 5.

Shirley, E. L., & Cornell, D. G. (2012). The contribution of student perceptions of school climate to understanding the disproportionate punishment of African American students in a middle school. School Psychology International, 33(2), 115-134.

Swearer, S. M., Espelage, D., Vaillancourt, T., & Hymel, S. (2010). What can be done about school bullying? Linking research to educational practice. Educational Researcher, 39(1), 38–47.

Trent, K. P., & Richards, S. J. (2018). Bibliotherapy as a strategy for bullying prevention. In J. U. Gordon (Ed.), Bullying prevention and intervention at school: Integrating theory and research into best practices; bullying prevention and intervention at school: Integrating theory and research into best practices (pp. 37–52, Chapter xiii, 155 pages) Springer Nature.

Waterman, E. A., Edwards, K. M., & Banyard, V. L. (2022). Rates of violence perpetration and victimization in cohorts of middle and high-school students during a sexual violence  prevention initiative: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of school violence, 21(2), 81-92.

Woodall, M.l & Jenkins, L.N. (2023) Using bibliotherapy to address bullying in schools, Child & Youth Services, DOI: 10.1080/0145935X.2023.2218080