This week has been busy! We have read Pete the Popcorn to more than 700 students so far this week.
But the exciting part is that we’ve been doing so much more than a simple reading.
After we’ve introduced ourselves and read the book aloud to the students, we talk about the multiple messages in the book:
-We all grow up to be different.
-You can be anything you’d like to be when you “pop” up.
-We need to be kind and encouraging to one another.
The last one is the one closest to my heart. I firmly believe that if we start teaching children at a young age about supporting and encouraging their classmates, the problem of bullying in our schools will come to a slow and silent end.
Every school we’ve been to, there have been sights like this:
To really demonstrate the importance and simplicity of offering encouraging words to others, we do a little activity with the students after the reading. We ask for a volunteer, who comes to the front of the class. The child then chooses one of their classmates to say something nice about. We’ve heard so many wonderful compliments– Suzie is funny. Ryan is smart. Danny is helpful. We go through several kids and also involve the teachers.
At the end, I say something to the effect of, “you see how easy it is to compliment someone? If you see one of your classmates that is down in the dumps or not acting right, ask them how they are. In the story, Pete says he didn’t feel too peppy… and Patty is encouraging and gets to the bottom of the problem. Tell your friends something nice. Offer a kind word. You never know how much your one kind word will mean to someone.”
I also mention that each and every one of us needs to work on this– I myself do not say enough nice things to other people. There probably isn’t a limit on how many nice things you should say or do in any given day– it could help someone in ways that you don’t even know.
Last spring and summer, I started to get to know a neighbor across the street from the house I had moved into during the winter. His name was Jess and he was married to Melissa.
Melissa and Jess were always there with a smile and a wave when I was leaving for work or taking out the trash. And then we started to talk about projects that we all had, hobbies, etc.
It turns out that Jess was into drawing— really, really into drawing and artwork! He was fantastic at it. Jess showed me a lot of his work and we discussed different things we would each like to try in future business endeavors, etc. I even considered asking Jess about becoming the illustrator for Pete the Popcorn!
I asked Jess one day if he could do a cartoon caricature of me in my flight attendant uniform. I wanted to use this for a special, surprise project that I was working on to use during my flights at work. Within 24 hours, he sent me the image above. I thought it was fantastic.
Less than two weeks later, I got a knock at the door. Unbeknownst to me, Jess suffered from depression. And earlier in the day, he lost his battle with this very serious illness.
Jess never knew the joy that his little cartoon drawing of me brought to all of my passengers at work. He never knew the smile that it brought to my own face each time I looked at it, as well. Looking back, I wish I would have asked for that cartoon just a few weeks earlier. That way, he could have received some of the feedback and encouraging words that I and others had offered.
I’m not saying that encouraging words would have jolted Jess out of this serious illness. But my point is that we never know what others are going through. And we never know when a simple compliment or smile or gesture will go so very far in someone’s existence.
I believe that bullying in our schools can lead to depression, among children as well as adults. And I sincerely hope that Pete the Popcorn and our speaking engagements at schools across the country can begin to break the pattern of bullying. I’ve done my job if one student’s encouragement to another prevents that child from harming himself or others.
We are attempting to tackle a very serious subject with a lighthearted story. But that’s how children learn. And I truly believe Pete the Popcorn can help.
The author of this article, Nick Rokicki, is releasing his first Children’s Book, Pete the Popcorn on Leap Day– February 29th, 2012, with co-author Joe Kelley. People are encouraged to purchase the book on Leap Day to help make this country take a huge leap forward when it comes to bullying in schools. The book will be available at Amazon.com on February 29th, 2012. Learn more and find the link to purchase at http://www.PeteThePopcorn.com
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