Author talks to students about bullies

By Jason Harris - Staff Writer
Colchester - posted Thu., Dec. 13, 2012
Author Doug Wilhelm talked about his books about bullying. Courtesy photos. - Contributed Photo

Author Doug Wilhelm talked about bullying with students at William J. Johnston Middle School on Dec. 14. Wilhelm is the author of 14 young adult novels, 13 of which are fiction. Two are about bullying: "The Revealers" and "True Shoes."

Dr. Virginia Goncalo, a reading specialist at the school, came across Wilhelm and his books through the Parent Teacher Organization when members asked her about having authors coming to speak to the students. “I picked up one of his books and that got the ball rolling,” Goncalo said.

"The Revealers" was published in 2003 and the sequel, "True Shoes," which deals with cyber-bullying, was released this past spring.

“The types of books I write are realistic novels for middle-schoolers,” Wilhelm said. “Because I write realistic fiction, I try to deal with stuff that kids are really dealing with.”

In the publishing world, young adult means grades three through eight. “This is not an easy time to grow up,” Wilhelm said. “I don’t know if there’s ever been an easy time to grow up. Kids are dealing with a lot of stresses. A lot of the stress comes from the way kids treat each other.”

Wilhelm believes bullying is out of control, based on what teachers and guidance counselors tell him. “It’s always been with us,” he said. Bullying happens because of the differences in people, including race, nationality, intelligence, or even being short or tall, he said. Kids have even more power today to hurt each other, said Wilhelm, because they can spread rumors through text messaging, which happens in "True Shoes," and can embarrass a person by electronic means including Facebook or uploading a video to YouTube.

“Bullying has always been a huge part of the struggle of getting through adolescence,” Wilhelm said. His initial impetus for writing a book about it came from a discussion he had with his second-grade son, Brad, who is now 25 and in law school. Brad told him that he and his friends had a secret bully lab, which they lured bullies into so they could dissect their brains.

“I wanted to know what he was really talking about,” Wilhelm said. “I could tell something was happening because he was very serious about it. Little kids will make stuff up, but there’s often some truth in there.” As a result of some well-placed questions, Wilhelm learned that his son and his friends had been standing under the playground slide at school, watching how some of the kids on the playground were always mean to other kids. They wondered what these mean kids were thinking.

“That’s what he really meant by dissecting brains,” Wilhelm said. “What are those kids thinking, what’s going through their minds, why do they do this, can we figure out a way to get them to change?”

In "The Revealers," the author writes about three misfits who say, "Let’s investigate this like we’re scientists." These misfits don’t like being picked on, so they come together to do something about it by using their heads, since they weren’t big or strong, Wilhelm said.

“If you are going to write realistically for kids, you better pay attention to them,” said the author. He doesn't put obvious lessons in his books and he isn't preachy. "The minute I think I know the answers is the minute my story becomes boring," he said. "It's the same way with being a parent. The minute you start lecturing a teenager is the same moment they start tuning you out."

“I’m a writer of stories," said Wilhelm. "My job is to pay attention to what kids are really like and what they’re really dealing with and try to make a good story out of it," he said.

Adding relevance to the author's visit, Goncalo had the students go online and find stories about bullying in the news. They talked about the stories they found and how, in some cases, teens go so far as to commit suicide as a result of being bullied.

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