Just one act of kindness can make an impact. Join the national movement to Choose Kind, inspired by R.J. Palacio’s debut novel, WONDER.
“You can tell kids ‘It won’t be like this forever’ but it’s impossible to see that far ahead when just getting through each day without being noticed is an impossible feat….Go sign the pledge. And don’t stop at adding your name to a list. Be there for someone.”
-Katy Towell, author of Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrow
By Matthew Cody
I practically grew up wearing a cape. Sometimes it was a real, honest-to-goodness cape with a Superman symbol drawn on the back in black magic marker. But as often as not it was a towel, or my jacket tied around my neck. A shirt would do in a pinch and my poor mother spent untold hours of my childhood trying to untie the knots of my shirtsleeves. Supes was my guy.
For those of you who need a quick primer - Superman is an alien, the last survivor of a dead planet. Despite a loving adoptive family, he’s still an outsider. He’s different and he’s treated badly because of it. As a kid, he’s picked on and pushed around because his parents won’t let him play sports. But what the other kids don’t know is that he’s so powerful that playing sports with them would actually put them in danger. Even as an adult, mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent is the office klutz who will never get the girl.
But what makes Superman really, well, super, is that he could score any number of touchdowns as easily as breathing. He could take off his nerdy glasses and get the girl. He could toss the bullies into the next cornfield, into the sun. But he chose not to. Superman rose above it all – up, up and away. That’s pretty potent stuff for a terminally-shy kid wearing his shirt tied around his neck.
I don’t know what came first, the awkwardness or the cape. Did I get picked on because I ran around my neighborhood dressed up like a superhero or did I dress up like a superhero because I was getting picked on? I’m not really sure that it matters because the bullying continued long after the cape went away.
I wasn’t bullied by one specific kid. Throughout elementary and middle school it was more a series of unfortunate encounters, each little shame a doomsday plot. Each conflict a cliffhanger in which the hero rarely triumphed. But I learned something over the years in spite of, or perhaps because of, it all.
We are all powerless at some point in our lives. We all feel alone and alien in a world that doesn’t seem to want us, surrounded by evil-doers determined to make our lives miserable.
But we grow. We change. And under a bright yellow sun we discover a strength that goes deeper than our muscles. We defy the mere gravity that presses down on us and we leap, we soar into the future. And when we get there, we look back on our villains not with a desire for vengeance, but with kindness, because we know we were stronger than they were. Always.
So that’s why, for me, it’s Superman. Because of his secret power. Because of the secret power we all share, if we choose to embrace it.
That, and the heat vision.
MATTHEW CODYdivides his time between writing and teaching college English in New York City. His latest novel, Super, will be available in September 2012; his previous works include Powerless and The Dead Gentleman. Originally from the midwest, Matthew lives with his wife and young son in Manhattan.
By Sundee T. Frazier
I had an instant connection to Auggie Pullman. A superficial one, but it got my attention. Pullman. That was the name of the small, rural town where I entered middle school as “the new kid.” Now, I have no idea what it feels like to be stared at or ostracized the way Auggie was, but I do know what it feels like to be at the receiving end of unwanted attention, and as a biracial person, I know what it feels like to be different.
That first day of middle school, I was alone and petrified. I entered homeroom and made a beeline for the first seat I could find. I was self-conscious in my brand-new white OshKosh overalls, even though I thought they were cool at the time. A boy behind me let out a catcall whistle and said something to his friend about my body. I radiated so much embarrassed heat I was sure the kids around me could feel it.
That began a year of harassment from boys that I wish I had had the courage to stand up to. Instead, I giggled, let boys take advantage of me in ways I didn’t like, and allowed my sense of worth to be defined by my physical appearance instead of my intelligence and personality. I wanted my frizzy hair to lay flat and “feather” like all the white girls around me, and I froze up when I heard boys make racist jokes about black people.
I often wish I could go back to that 12-year-old girl and let her know that how we look doesn’t define who we are. I would tell her to stand up to those boys. I can’t go back in time, but I can encourage young people not to give in to the pressure to measure ourselves or others by outward appearances. Hopefully, this is what my stories do.
SUNDEE T. FRAZIER is the author of The Other Half of My Heart, Brendan Buckley’s Sixth Grade Experiment, and Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It, for which she received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award. Learn more about her and her books at www.sundeefrazier.com.
By Trudy Ludwig
Every minute of every day, we make choices in how we treat those we encounter in life. We can choose to be kind or we can choose to be cruel. Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, poignantly shows readers of all ages how our own words and actions are capable of building up or breaking down the human spirit.
No child is born a racist. No child is born mean. Social cruelty is a learned behavior. Children can learn it at home, at school, or in their neighborhood. And, as depicted in Wonder and Confessions of a Former Bully, social cruelty can also be unlearned with the help and support of caring adults and peers in that child’s world.
In our society, we have normalized peer cruelty far too long, writing it off as “that’s just the way girls are” or “boys will be boys” types of behaviors. There is substantive research showing how harmful bullying is not only to the child being bullied, but also to the bystanders (children who witness these hurtful acts) and to the kids who are doing the bullying. Addressing peer aggression requires a community effort—one that involves the participation of educators, administrators, students, and parents.
Rather than focusing on our differences—whether subtle or obvious (as in the case of Wonder protagonist August’s noticeable facial deformity)—we need to instead focus on what we do have in common with our fellow human beings. The bottom line here is that we have more similarities with one another than we have differences. We are all capable of doing better and being better in how we treat one another. It’s simply a matter of choice as to how we proceed.
TRUDY LUDWIG is a member of the Random House Speakers Bureau, a Children’s Advocate, and the bestselling author of My Secret Bully, Just Kidding, Sorry!, Trouble Talk, Too Perfect, Confessions of a Former Bully, and Better Than You
By Lenore Look
I ran into my first bully in kindergarten. Her name was Lisa and she used to wait for me at the top of a long flight of concrete steps leading into the old Beacon Hill Elementary School in Seattle. When I got to the second-to-the-top step, Lisa would block my way and not let me pass, and then we would begin a terrifying dance back and forth along the edge of the top steps, with me trying to ascend the summit and Lisa doing her darndest to keep me from it. Worse, she would begin her threats, “If you don’t play with me, I’m going to tickle you and make you fall down!”
It was a long way down. But I didn’t want to play with her either. Any six-year-old could see that it was a lose-lose situation. I was going to die if I didn’t play with her, and I was going to die if I did. I dreaded going to school. I dreaded meeting up with Lisa on the steps every morning. And I dreaded falling down those stairs, dead.
According to my kindergarten report card, I was absent thirty-two days in the second marking period – a remarkable feat that I’d always chalked up to being a sick child, but now that I am recalling the bullying, it makes me wonder if the two were not somehow related – was I sick due to the usual childhood viruses, or due to the stress of being bullied? Could I have been faking it on some of those days because it was the only way to avoid my tormentor?
How I ever got into the building and managed to be counted present at all, I have no idea. Lisa probably ran inside as soon as the bell rang because bullies, if not for their aberrant social skills, are prompt, courteous, helpful, rule-followers and models of exemplar behavior when they need to be. That is, when there’s a grown-up nearby. Once inside, I did my best to avoid her, no doubt, and I must have been very good at this because I have no other memories of Lisa. The only tangible proof that Lisa existed at all, is that she’s in my kindergarten class photo, and again in my first-grade class photo – and in the latter, she’s standing off to one side, clutching the class sign, like a prize she had won and dragged away from the rest of us. It isn’t obvious from the photo that she bullied anyone, but looking at it now, I find it interesting that I could cut along an imaginary dotted line and remove her, and the entire rest of the class would still be intact. But if I try to delete anyone else from the picture – we were all sitting or standing very close together – I would destroy the entire image.
Bullies are like that – no one misses them when they’re gone.
And friends are like that too – lose one, and a chunk is taken out of your chest, or your arm will be missing, or your entire left side is gone.
Which brings me to tell you that also in these photos are two of my best friends. I don’t mean my best friends only then, but my best friends now and in every year since kindergarten. Vivian is sitting in the front row, looking every part the fashionista that she was. Always with a keen eye for style and design, she’s now an architect in Boston. Standing behind her is Karri, smiling and happy. Always self-possessed and smart, she’s now a doctor in Seattle. I have many wonderful memories of playing with them after school and on weekends. And in my mom’s photo albums are pictures of them, perennials at my birthday parties through the years until the last one in high school before we left for college.
All of us are moms now and my kids grew up calling Vivian and Karri “aunty.” It’s a Chinese thing, I think, a term of endearment that we bestow upon a friend we consider as close as family. And because their children are still young, I am currently enjoying my aunty status, or in the case of Olivia, Karri’s youngest, who is now five, I’m the “birthday girl” because her mom threw me a birthday party last year, and this year I will return to celebrate another birthday with them.
People are astonished whenever I mention that I still have friends from kindergarten. Their jaws drop when I say that not only were they my childhood buds, but they’re my closest friends now, more than forty years later. And when I allow myself to think about it, to really think about our long, enduring friendships, I’m amazed too, and filled with wonder and a gratitude so deep I will begin to weep.
My close friends are the weave and weft of my life. Even in writing about bullying, it is impossible not to mention them, like a jeweler examining pearls against a dark cloth.
As for the bully, rarely does she ever come to mind.
Karri and Vivian remember her as being “mean.” But none of us knew about the other’s troubles until we were safely grown up. Then we laughed about it. And we said things like, “I can’t believe she did that to you too!”
None of us knows whatever happened to Lisa.
Nor do we have any memories of her besides her cruelty.
We had long snipped along the dotted line without even knowing it.
And none of us missed her.
LENORE LOOK is the author of the popular Alvin Ho series, and several acclaimed picture books, including Polka Dot Penguin Pottery, and Henry’s First-Moon Birthday and Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding, both of which received three starred reviews and were named ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Books.