Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Two Books that Help Discourage Bullying

Tomie dePaola has been one of the most popular childrens picture book authors and illustrators for decades. The problem of bullying is getting a lot more attention these days and we hope more is written on the fact that Tomie wrote a book called Oliver Button is a Sissy that was first published way back in 1979. Oliver runs into tough times because he is more of an artsy kid than an athlete. He likes dancing, which gives him exercise--and helps build his self esteem when someone at school recognizes his achievement in it. Go here for Elizabeth Kennedy's About.com review. Tomie dePaola has been one of my favorite childrens book illustrators and authors for many years. Go here for his site.

Exercise and Bullying

We've written on this site about the need for kids to get exercise and certainly athletics is a great way for most kids to do just that. If kids are not playing a sport, riding a bike, swimming, running or doing something that involves good physical exercise that's a problem. (Of course, there are some kids who can't exercise because of a medical limitation.) In Tomie dePaola's book, Oliver does something that provides good exercise--he dances.

I do not believe that parents should allow their kids to avoid all exercise. There is a risk in doing just that. Many parents today believe that their child is just "different." Different is OK, but I think almost all kids should participate in PE at school. I think teachers need to do all they can to make sure that the school environment is a positive one for everyone. Kids need to be encouraged to participate in physical education and physical education should be supported by parents. Parents who heavily criticize physical education programs based on their experiences long ago, need to understand what their kids schools are offering today. If kids are being bullied in these programs, the programs need to be changed. See my post on Fred Kaiser's program at Lundahl Middle School. Exercise has been shown to help kids in so many ways and many believe it also helps a person's emotional well-being. Doctors dealing with patients with depression often suggest diet and exercise along with therapy and medicines. I would be concerned that if a kid is allowed to avoid exercise, any criticisms received from his or her peers may seem all the more painful if the lack of exercise is contributing to some kind of depression or perhaps affecting self confidence.

Back to Tomie

Tomie dePaola's book Oliver Button is a Sissy helps to encourage kids to understand the importance of being themselves and allowing others to do the same. Kids need to support each other and their interests and differences. The movie "Bully" that is out today is helping people to understand the awful harm that bullying can cause. When kids are exposed to movies like "Bully" the issue of bullying become a flesh and blood issue. Once kids start to champion a cause, that cause will grow powerful and spread very fast.

At Sporting Chance Press

We didn't set out to publish a book on bullying. However, Mike Cameron, found himself emotionally tuned into Fred Merkle who would certainly qualify as someone who was bullied severely. Mike was so inspired by stories of the horrid treatment that Merkle and his family received that he wrote a book on it called Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball Fred Merkle.

Fred Merkle, was a young 19 year old New York Giant who was filling in for an injured veteran in an important game against the mighty Chicago Cubs in 1908. The game was tied going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Merkle who was on first, walked off the base path after the apparent end of the hotly contested game when a teammate on third scored. Merkle was called out for not tagging second based on a rule that was rarely enforced (if ever) under the circumstances at the time. Because thousands of fans had run onto the field on their way to the exits, the umpire ruled the game a tie rather than attempt to have the crowd return to their seats for extra innings. Merkle's team cried foul, but the press focused all of its muckraking venom on the unfortunate Fred Merkle and christened him “bonehead” for the remainder of his life. Merkle became baseball’s number one scapegoat.

Merkle was lambasted in the press after the game, and then again after a special rubber match was played at the end of the season because the Giants and Cubs were tied for the Pennant. Because the Giants lost the match and the Cubs went on to win the World Series, the newspaper reporters were merciless. The reporters venom spread to the fans and it lasted throughout Merkle's long career. Every mistake Merkle would make in his long career might be captioned in the paper as another error by Bonehead Merkle.

Bullying is the right term for what was done to Merkle because he was essentially defenseless against the national press. Before the incident, Merkle was a handsome young athlete who spoke two languages, had been an excellent student and was brought up in a strict immigrant family. After the incident, Merkle was made out to be a bonehead, a clown who could do nothing right, a figure to be laughed at and ridiculed. Merkle went about his business, raised a family through the Depression and war years. He surrounded himself with people he loved and he survived.

Cameron's book, Public Bonehead, Private Hero gives the historical background to the game, describes the importance that the public put on baseball at the time, examines the national pastime with passion, and recounts the slights and struggles that the Merkle family faced. Although the Merkle game was played over a hundred years ago, it is still a topic that is discussed and written about today. Most current discussion on Merkle still casts aspersions on the man's intelligence and character. They still don't get it right.

For those who want to bring attention to the issue of bullying, the Merkle experience is an excellent topic for adults to understand the long lasting impact and harm that such bullying can have on the innocent. The fact that such bullying can happen to anyone, including an athletic, intelligent, strong man is also instructive. It is everyone's problem. For more on Public Bonehead, Private Hero. The book is currently available only through our web site.