- Jennifer Hart
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, "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 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. At the end of the reading, when I open up to questions, I get about 50% questions and 50% statements. Sometimes they're very direct, which can be entertaining coming from a five or six-year-old. Other times their honesty gives 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 bit 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. I was this girl in middle school with glasses and stringy hair that felt misunderstood a lot of the time. A lot of us were this girl, right? Middle school is awkward for most people and we realize that once we're older. But 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 so young say that they had been bullied before to the 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 severe 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. Her story 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 shift a couple of minds. Let's all get along, huh?