This Is Why
I had a few jitters walking into my first advanced reading last week of “Baxter Meets His Monster.” The school was buzzing with activity but the office was quick to get me signed in and headed in the right direction to my first class. I only went down one wrong hallway – which is a feat for me. When I entered the room, the kids were all between the ages of five and six. They were seated around a chair at the front of the class. This would be my “stage.” I did the intro I had carefully practiced the night before. My goal was to make an impression on them about giving people a chance and not judging them based on appearance. Doing this in “kid talk” is slightly more challenging and this was my first live run through so I was anxious to see if it would work. We talked about what they thought made a good friend, which ties into the theme of the book. They said things like, “Someone who is nice to me is my friend,” and “We eat cookies together,” or “My friend shares with me.” I won them over with a few stickers for answering my questions and then it was on to the reading. When they laughed out loud at a few parts I finally breathed a bit easier. I closed the book at the end and I asked the kids if they had any questions about me, being an author, or the book we just read?
A quick observation after doing this for a few years…young kids don’t always understand the concept of a question. On many occasions at the end of reading when I open up to questions I get about 50% questions and 50% statements. Sometimes they can get very direct which depending on the nature of the statement can be entertaining or can give me a panicky feeling in the pit of my stomach that makes me want to bolt out of the room
This time, a little girl with her hair tied up in pigtails raised her hand. I called on her. Her cheeks got a little rosy as she spoke in a quiet voice. Her eyes turned down to the floor behind her pink-framed glasses. She said, “I used to get bullied at my old school. Now I go here and it’s better.”
Crickets. Yep there it is. Panic.
I can’t say I was exactly surprised because this very statement was one of the reasons I decided to write a book about friendship and being misunderstood. I was this girl in middle school with glasses and stringy hair. A lot of us were this girl, right? But – that was middle school. This girl is maybe six years old. My hope was by encouraging young elementary school kids to be kind and empathetic that this sort of thing would become less prevalent. It was a shock to hear someone sooooo young say that they had been bullied before to a degree that they had to switch schools. It was heartbreaking to say the least and apparent after that first reading how naive I was to think that this wasn’t already a serious problem in younger grades. I turned to her and said the only thing I could say, “I’m sorry that happened to you, but I’m glad things are better here.”
I finished the day with the usual q and a. This stuck with me though and sticks with me still which is why I’m sharing it. I hope it stays “better” for her. One book may never change the world but with a little luck, it at least may change a couple of minds.
Let’s all just get along, huh?