Monday, October 7, 2013

Read a Book. Stop a Bully.

Meet 11-year-old Jack.
He’s funny. He’s inventive. He has a rich and loving family that includes his very busy Mum, his rather odd Nana, his sort-of-stepdad Rob and his sister Samantha.   
He likes everything most boys his age do, whether they live in the U.S. or Australia: going to school, learning, hanging out with his friends.
How perfect his Life would be if only his classmate George Hamel vanished!
Alas, a lame joke on Jack’s part led to George calling him a “Butt head.” Once the whole school joined in, Jack’s school days spelled D-A-N-G-E-R.

Jack shares his plight in the award-winning I AM JACK, a rite-of-passage children’s book in Australia lauded as “accessible and hilarious…an absolute must.” Published in the U.S. by KaneMiller in 2012, School Library Journal called I AM JACK “a solid addition to the growing collection of books about bullying.”
Jack’s first engagingly-told novel was adapted into a successfully-touring play in Australia and will begin its U.S. run in 2014.
His second and third novels include ALWAYS JACK (which deals with cancer in families) and SUPER JACK (which deals with blended families.)

Now meet Jack’s creator, Susanne Gervay, the award-winning, Order of Australia for Literature author whom I proudly call friend, colleague and SCBWI Kin. (Susanne serves as the Regional Advisor for SCBWI’s Eastern Australia and New ZealandChapter.)

Jack, it turns out, was based on Susanne’s real-life son Jack.

“When I discovered that Jack was being bullied, I fulfilled my Jack's worst nightmare. Yes, I went up to the school. Yes, he was scared. Yes, the school acted. Yes, the bully was called up.
It took six months for things to really change. Eventually my Jack worked through the bullying with the support of family, friends, the school. By the end he felt good about himself, had great friends, loved his school, did his school work, played soccer and learnt that society can be a fair place.”

Susanne shared with me an email that followed her recent school visit to a multicultural state school, the Bankstown Public School in Sydney.  Here’s what Akila in 5p posted on the class blog:

“At first if someone calls you names like Bumhead (poor Jack) it's funny, the next time it's just nothing, a million times feels like ok you can stop now and a jillion times equals AHHHHHH I had enough!" Remember what Susanne Gervay said. Teasing is not bullying. Bullying affects you in a different way. It makes you scared. We can help stop bullying in many ways! You've got to give a helping hand and help someone else in trouble. And remember George Hamel? Well I remember Susanne saying that he had supporters which can happen here too. Bullying can happen at anytime and anywhere. If you're bullied then tell somebody. Your family and friends are there to love and help you so appreciate that!”
Exploring the website for National Bullying Prevention Month, sponsored by Pacer, I was taken with the Pacer Center tag – “Champions for Children with Disabilities.”
“Disables,” I said to myself. “That’s what bullying – in any form, does.  It DIS-ables the victim.”
But as Jack says in the KaneMiller book sticker that introduces this post,
reading stops a bully.
Reading EN-ables – the victim, the aggressor, the observer – to take action.
Or at least it can and should, with the right book.

I applaud MaryAnn and April for sharing their vulnerability so honestly in last week’s posts, and in the books and poems they write.
I applaud Susanne Gervay for doing the same in I AM JACK.

Marian Dane Bauer spoke the Truth in WHAT’S YOUR STORY?: we need to put our own stories in the stories we write if they’re ever to resound in our readers’ hearts, if they're ever to enable our readers to do what needs doing.

Thanks, Susanne and Jack, for doing just that!

Esther Hershenhorn

Don’t forget! The October 9 deadline looms for our Book Giveaway of Alexis O’Neill’s newest book The Kite That Bridged Two Nations.


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Esther, for introducing us to Susanne Gervey and her wonderful books!

Kane Miller Books said...

Kane Miller Books offers an Americanized version of the curriculum study guide for I Am Jack. Click on the I Am Jack cover at