Pete the popcorn is worried about popping up.
Will he be caramel corn, chocolate covered popcorn, mixed with bacon, or covered in cheese?
"Whatever he decides to be it's OK," said Nick Rokicki, Pete's creator. "You can grow up to be whatever you want to be. And you'll all be quite different from one another and that's OK," Mr. Rokicki told a class of third graders at Leverette Elementary in North Toledo during a recent visit.
Taking a stance against bullying, Mr. Rokicki and co-author Joe Kelley, wrote the story of Pete the Popcorn, a kernel fearful of what the future holds. Pete's encouraging friend Patty lets him know that whatever he turns out to be, he'll be perfect.
"We wanted to come up with a story for smaller kids about encouraging each other and not tearing each other down," Mr. Rokicki said. "Because we all grow up to be something different. Different sizes, shapes, color, and personalities."
The book, illustrated by Kathleen Smith Waters and targeted for children in grades kindergarten through third, delivers a subtle message against bullying.
Mr. Rokicki, a graduate of Whitmer High School, and Mr. Kelley, a Michigan native, teamed up after learning that Mr. Kelley's 11-year-old nephew was being bullied. The two read from their book to first and third graders at Leverette.
"You can't address this when they're in their teenage years," said Mr. Kelley, 39. "If you do it while they're young, you can stop it. Kids should be encouraging each other and embracing their differences."
Bullying is a form of intimidation or domination toward someone who is perceived as being weaker, according to stopbullying.gov, the Web site for a national campaign against bullying. In addition to physical intimidation, the rise of the Internet has created instances of children being bullied by email and on social media Web sites. Bullying by text message also has grown in popularity in recent years, according to the site.
Signs your child is being bullied
- Comes home with damaged or missing clothing or other belongings.
- Has unexplained injuries.
- Has trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams.
- Has changes in eating habits.
- Hurts themselves.
- Is afraid of going to school or other activities with peers.
- Loses interest in school work or begins to do poorly in school.
- Appears sad, moody, angry, anxious, or depressed when they come home.
- Talks about suicide.
- Suddenly has fewer friends.
Signs your child is bullying others
- Becomes violent with others.
- Gets into physical or verbal fights with others.
- Gets sent to the principal's office or detention frequently.
- Has extra money or new belongings that cannot be explained.
- Is quick to blame others.
- Has friends who bully others.
- Needs to win or be best at everything.
Close to half of all children will experience bullying at some point while in primary or secondary school, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. At least 10 percent of children are bullied regularly.
Childhood bullying often is dismissed as a normal part of growing up, but research has found bullying has significant effects on the victims. Children who are bullied can be stunted emotionally and socially. In some cases, serious depression, attempted suicide, and suicide can result from childhood bullying, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
In addition, harassment and bullying have been linked to 75 percent of school shootings, a U.S. Secret Service report says.
On Monday a teenager opened fire in the cafeteria of a suburban Cleveland high school, killing three students and wounding two others. Schoolmates of the shooter said the teen had been bullied and was an outcast.
Laura Meyer, a first grade teacher at Leverette, said she speaks to her students regularly about diversity and bullying.
"In our school, we have a lot of students with handicaps. My students see them, and it's only natural for them to be curious," Ms. Meyer said. "It's very important that they understand differences are OK."
Pete the Popcorn was released worldwide today on Amazon.com. Mr. Kelley and Mr. Rokicki are traveling the country sharing the story with elementary school students.
"We chose to launch on Leap Day, because this country needs to take a leap forward against bullying," Mr. Rokicki said. "In the meantime, we want kids to know, you can pop up to be whatever you want to be. You're perfect exactly how you are."
Contact RoNeisha Mullen at email@example.com or 419-724-6133.