By Rachel M. Anderson, Freelance Writer
(Woodbury)––Does your son or daughter dread going to school every day? If so, chances are good they are being teased and bullied. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies, one in four middle schoolers and 15 percent of high schoolers report being bullied.
Bullying is a form of youth violence defined as an attack or intimidation with the intention to cause fear, distress or harm that is either physical, verbal or psychological. It’s not just happening in middle and high school, but in elementary school too.
As the mother of an elementary child with Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder on the Autism spectrum that causes developmental delays and challenges with social skills, Trina Dawkins Patterson of Woodbury, Minn., recognized the need to spread a message about the importance of kindness and acceptance to all children.
“Although there are no physical signs of my son’s disorder, he does have some behavioral challenges that occasionally make him stand out from his peers. We have been faced with situations where other children have not treated him kindly—in my opinion, because they didn’t understand his behavior,“ said Patterson, who has a Psychology and Montessori teaching background.
The situation in which she found herself sparked an idea. Two years earlier, Patterson was invited to facilitate a workshop on acceptance for a Daisy Troop in Geist, Indiana. “I had written a poem using cookies because it was for the Girl Scouts to illustrate how it feels to be treated unkindly just because you are different, and thought it would make a good children’s book. I wanted to use it to help spread the message about the importance of kindness and acceptance and show how the lack of those qualities can lead to bullying,” she said.
Patterson began the writing process for the book in March 2010, and then hired an illustrator. Once the manuscript was complete, she sought out a publisher. Amber Skye Publishing in the Twin Cities released A Tale of Two Cookies in the summer of 2011.
The story takes place in the Town of Confection, a place that appears to be as perfect as can be, but readers quickly learn there’s trouble brewing. Liddy, the lemon cookie, is being mean to Ola, the oatmeal cookie, because she doesn’t look the same as the other cookies. Liddy tells Ola she can’t live in the town because she’s too different. As Ola is about to leave crying, something happens that puts things into perspective for readers.
Even though Ola was treated meanly, she still showed kindness to Liddy. This caused Liddy to realize if she and Ola got to know each other, they could be friends.
“I think it’s important to help children understand it’s not always necessary to retaliate and be mean in return when someone is mean to you,” said Patterson. “Oftentimes, kindness really does beget kindness.” The other lesson she hopes kids will take away from her book is that it’s perfectly normal to be different—that’s what makes this world so special.
“Everyone is different in their own way and we have to accept one another as we are. One way to reach acceptance is learning about a person or other cultures rather than judging. I always encourage children to go and introduce themselves and talk to kids who may look or behave differently. Try to learn about who they are as a person,” she said.
Towards the end of the 2010/2011 school year, Patterson was invited to share what she calls a “small book with a big message” with kids in her son Trenton’s 4th grade class at Liberty Ridge Elementary in Woodbury, Minnesota. “I designed the presentation for schools to be very interactive. The children become a part of the story by acting out some of the roles in the story and simulating the sounds of the storm that threatens the Town of Confection. The kids have a lot of fun with it,” said Patterson.
After she finishes reading the story, Patterson asks questions that are found at the end of the book. The questions are designed to open up a dialogue about the key messages delivered in the story. Here is some of the feedback she received:
“It’s a great story with a lesson that supports what we teach our kids in the classroom—no bullying, inclusion, accept each other as we are. I think it’s really relevant to the students’ lives as they are dealing with the issues in the book every day. I especially like the redeeming quality at the end,” said Joy Hanson, Trenton’s teacher.
“I’ve been a victim of bullying because I was the smartest kid in the class. It made me sad,” said Pierce Daniels, 10, who dealt with bullying last year when he was at a different school. “I think if they had read this book, maybe the kids wouldn’t have done it to me.”
“I thought it was a real neat book. I’ve had friends who’ve been bullied and it’s not right. If I see it happening, I’ll tell the kids to stop and treat people the way you want to be treated,” said 9-year-old Cambree Jeffries.
Once the 2011/2012 school year gets underway, Patterson is planning to return to Liberty Ridge Elementary to share her book with more classes. She hopes to be invited to visit other schools throughout the Twin Cities Metro and around the country.
A Tale of Two Cookies retails for $10.99 and will be available through Barnes & Nobles, Ingram, Baker & Taylor and Itasca Books. Patterson intends for it to be the first in a series of three children’s books on character development which will also include a teaching curriculum for educators.
In addition to working on her book series, Patterson is a keynote speaker as well as the founder and facilitator for three onsite youth programs. The Cookie Movement is an international program for girls and women where self-esteem, abstinence and building healthy relationships are the key areas of focus. The Transition Mission is designed to help students transitioning from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school maintain a positive sense of self; develop appropriate and healthy relationships with peers and teachers; and build good organizational and study skills. She also has a workshop for tweens called Tween Talk for Girls. Intended for girls ages 8-10, this is an interactive workshop where girls openly discuss the challenges they face with self-esteem and developing healthy friendships.
About the Author
Trina Dawkins Patterson believes a kinder more compassionate world begins with children. She has always had a genuine desire to mentor and encourage others, especially youth. Patterson is a native of Flint, Michigan. She holds her B.S. in Psychology and M.S. in Administration from Central Michigan University. She received her Montessori Teaching Certification from Midwest Montessori Teacher Training Center. Currently, she lives in Minnesota with her husband and two sons.
About the Illustrator
Bonnita Wilson has been drawing since she was a child. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and currently lives in Indiana. This is the first published book she has illustrated with plans for more.