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My kids and I loved The Weird Series (Weird! Dare! Tough!) – a three book picture book set about three girls’ perspective of the same bullying story – the books were incredibly insightful and provoked good discussion. The books are well-written by Erin Frankel, beautifully illustrated by Paula Heaphy, and published by the always inspiring Free Spirit Publishing. Each book includes “activity club” pages and discussion ideas and information for parents and teachers. It’s a must own for educators, if not parents.
1. How did you get the idea for this unique 3 book series about bullying?
I know about the suffering that children go through when it comes to bullying, based on my own as experiences as a child, and now as a parent and teacher. I have observed how kids who are bullied often give up the things that make them special in the hopes that they will no longer be bullied and this saddens me. I feel empathy for children who continue to suffer with bullying and know that building empathy in children is truly part of the solution. So I wrote a story from the target’s perspective, Weird!, to help children put themselves in the target’s shoes and feel what Luisa, the main character, was feeling. I paired up with lifelong friend and illustrator, Paula Heaphy, who was able to bring the pain and desperation felt by Luisa to life. In fact, her illustrations were so vivid, that it made me wonder what the other characters—the bystander and the child doing the bullying—were feeling. With support and guidance from our wonderful publisher, Free Spirit, the other two books in the series, Dare! and Tough!, came to life. We wanted children to be able to explore all three perspectives and to understand each character’s struggles—to see that no one wins when it comes to bullying.
2. Do you recommend the books be read together and if so, in any particular order?
I think each book is powerful in itself, but the power is exponential when all three books are read together. Each book offers a different perspective, so reading them together allows you to dig a little deeper and peel back the layers of feelings and experiences that each character has. You can read the books in any order, but I like to start with Weird!. It gives readers a chance to explore the target’s feelings first and also sets the stage for a powerful question . . . How did Luisa get back to being herself? Then readers can explore the answer to that question in Dare! and Tough! by looking at the roles of the bystander and the child doing the bullying. I think the books really open the door to reflection and discussion.
3. Bullying is a huge problem, and it’s a big concern of many of my readers. What do you advise parents whose children are dealing with bullying?
It is a big concern. The good news is that so many people want to help make a difference. A few tips I would share:
Listen to your children. Listen to what they say and don’t say. Have you observed any changes in their behavior? If you suspect bullying, encourage children to share their feelings with you. Many targets of bullying feel ashamed, embarrassed, and scared. They may prefer to keep quiet rather than speak up. If you have experienced bullying, share your story. It is important for children to feel that they are not alone and that you are there to help. Let them know that you love them and that the bullying is not their fault.
After listening, take their concerns seriously. We need to stop expecting children to ‘figure it out’ or ‘just ignore it’ when it comes to bullying. This is a complex social problem with no simple solution. By the time a child seeks help, he or she will have probably already made some attempt at figuring things out without you and is feeling quite desperate with the situation. Try to put yourself in your child’s shoes. How would you want someone to react to you?
If the bullying is taking place at school, go to your child’s school to report the bullying. Work together with the school to help your child identify caring adults who will ensure your child’s safety and well-being as the bullying behavior is addressed. It is important for a child to feel that things will not get worse as a result of telling. Make it clear to the school that this is your priority and send a united message to your child that things will get better. Encourage children to continue to speak up if they feel that this is not the case. I learned something very important from anti-bullying activist and author Barbara Coloroso: bullying is not about conflict, it is about contempt. Sitting a target down with the child who is doing the bullying so that they can ‘work things out’ is not the solution. Share this knowledge with your child’s school. Many children are still forced to sit down with their tormentors. Those children may be hesitant to speak up again in the future.
Work with your child to identify caring friends who can offer them support. Your child may also experience feelings of betrayal and sadness because other children are not standing up against the bullying. Help your child understand why this may be happening. Bystanders are often afraid to speak up or don’t know how to help. Again, this reminds children that they are not alone in their feelings of fear and helplessness. Schools should be working toward creating a school environment in which bystanders feel confident enough to take a stand against bullying. Schools should help children explore safe ways to stand up for what is right. Ask your child’s school what they are doing to create a culture of kindness and caring.
Parents can work with children on confidence building, assertiveness skills, and coping techniques that will help them feel more empowered while the bullying behavior is being addressed. Some of these skills and techniques may influence bullying outcomes and help prevent bullying in the future. Remind your children that they are not the ones choosing cruelty over kindness and commend them on this.
Most importantly, don’t wait for bullying to happen to start talking to your children about bullying. Look for examples of caring individuals who have made a difference to others and let your children know that they can be that person. Use specific examples and stories to start the discussion. If we set the right foundation, then we will be talking about bullying prevention rather than intervention—and that means a whole lot of happy kids!
There are so many wonderful resources available for parents who are concerned about their children and bullying. It would be impossible to list them all here, but Paula and I have compiled a good starting point for resources on our website http://www.theweirdseries.com/.