Author Spotlight: Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein & Elizabeth Verdick

The staff at Free Spirit is privileged to work with many amazing authors. We will be sharing more author spotlights with you, and hope you enjoy learning about these writers who are dedicated to helping kids succeed. The following interview was recently published in our newsletter, Upbeat News.

This month’s spotlight is on Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein, LMSW, and Elizabeth Verdick, the coauthors of Stand Up to Bullying! out this fall from Free Spirit Publishing. Phyllis and Elizabeth are both bullying prevention advocates who believe that kids are key to making bullying uncool in schools. Read on to learn about why they were inspired to tackle this tough topic.

Q: What prompted you to write Stand Up to Bullying!?


Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein

Phyllis: In my professional and personal life I witnessed the damage bullying does. It’s not just hurt feelings. The harmful consequences also include lowered self-esteem, loss of friends, compromised physical and mental health, poor academic performance, and worse. I wanted to stop the pain and knew that students were present during 85 percent of bullying incidents. Research showed that children didn’t like bullying and wanted it to end, yet they stood by. Why? I believed youngsters didn’t know what to do, and I thought a humorous, entertaining, and informative book could fill the need by teaching anti-bullying skills and strategies.

Elizabeth Verdick © by Free Spirit Publishing

Elizabeth Verdick

Elizabeth: I was very lucky that Phyllis and Free Spirit Publishing invited me to collaborate on this book. The topic was close to my heart because I experienced bullying throughout middle school. I have two children, ages seventeen and thirteen, and they inspire me to write for kids and teens. I’ve worked on the Laugh and Learn™ series for many years now, and Stand Up to Bullying! was a perfect fit. We know bullying is a serious topic but wanted to speak to readers in a warm, sometimes lighthearted, and always reassuring voice, while offering lots of tips and advice they could use in their own lives. This book empowers kids to stand up for themselves and others because they’re the ones who are on the front lines of bullying.

Q: What was the most rewarding part of publishing this book?

StandUpToBullyingPhyllis: When I first received my finished copy of Stand Up to Bullying! I stared at the book in amazement. Amazed because once there was nothing. Then I had an idea. Like most people I have lots of ideas but life gets in the way and most aren’t developed. Stand Up to Bullying! was different because I had a strong belief that something could be done to minimize or stop bullying. My conviction motivated me to research and write the first manuscript. It was rewarding to watch the book develop and improve with every revision, essentially to have planted a seed that came to life.

Elizabeth: I love working with other authors and with illustrators, and I find both to be very rewarding. Often, the life of a writer is solitary—we sit alone at our desks, hoping our words will someday reach the people we write for. While collaborating, there’s always someone to brainstorm with, someone who reads your work and responds right away. It’s fun to create together. But now that the book is out, the most rewarding part is knowing that it may help kids who are experiencing the stress, anger, and fear that comes with being bullied.

Q: What inspired you the most as a child?

Elizabeth: I was always inspired by nature, animals, and books, books, books! There are a lot of childhood photos of me holding up a new book for the camera. Not much has changed—I still buy too many books and spend as much time as I can reading . . . with my three cats and dog.

Q: What was your favorite thing about school as a kid?

Elizabeth: My favorite part of school was writing. I loved creating stories or even writing research papers. Other students would complain when we had to write long papers, but I always thought “the longer the better.” Because then I could spend more time writing!

Phyllis: One of my favorite things about school was playing on the team that won the New York City volleyball championship. When we scored the winning point I stood in shock for a second, then started jumping up and down, hugging and loving everyone. Today I realize that team sports are a perfect antidote for bullying. Teammates must work together, help and support one another—qualities incompatible with bullying.

Q: What was your least favorite?

Phyllis: My least favorite parts of school included getting up early in the morning, homework, tests, bad teachers, and mean kids.

Q. Were either of you ever bullied as a kid? Do you remember witnessing bullying at school?

Elizabeth: When I think of my middle school years, I still get a sick feeling in my stomach. I hated those years of being bullied. There was a huge clique of girls who had a lot of power, and they were very calculating in how they treated people outside the group. They spread rumors, they glared, they excluded people, and they ruled the school hallways by standing side by side (five or more of them) and walking together so other students had to squeeze past or fall behind. I felt powerless and sad and angry almost every single day. Back then, I didn’t know how to advocate for myself very well. The best I could do was stick close to the friends I had and try to stay out of the clique’s way.

Phyllis: There was one classmate who teased me for being overweight. It was hurtful then but as an adult I realize he was probably in greater pain because he had to put people down in order to lift himself up.

Elizabeth: I have a confession to make: when I was in middle school, I felt so powerless about the bullying situation that I once took it out on a girl who had been a friend. I started to bully her by whispering about her and acting like she was weird. So, I turned my back on someone who had trusted me and I hurt her, because I was hurting inside. Bullying takes a huge toll on kids. The power dynamics are incredibly difficult to navigate. I look back on my behavior during those years, and I feel a sense of guilt and loss and sadness. I did apologize to my former friend that same year, but things were never the same again. I don’t want to see other kids go through this type of situation—that’s one reason why I grew up to write self-help books for kids.

Q. And finally, our favorite question for authors! What makes you a “Free Spirit”?

Phyllis: I am a “free spirit” because I follow my heart, sense of adventure, and desires no matter how unconventional or crazy my actions may seem. For example, I enjoy metal detecting. I can understand why people may think I am a little “off” when they see me swinging a stick until my arm feels like it is falling off, walking on sand heated to 90-plus degrees, and being smacked by waves, only to find garbage. Serious metal detectorists find gold; I find—and clean the beach of—pop tops, glass, and other debris. I continue because I like the suspense of a “treasure hunt,” get exercise, enjoy the calming water and fresh air, and meet the nicest people.

Elizabeth: Well, I’ve got a lot of pets. Right now, I have a tuxedo cat, a gray cat who acts feral, and an old, deaf black cat who rules the roost. I have a very old dog who has to wear diapers 24/7. Most of my pets come to me after being abandoned, abused, unwanted, or neglected. I take them in because I love animals and I believe in second chances.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Bullying & Conflict Resolution, Free Spirit News, Publishing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Boys and Bullying

By Erin Frankel, author of the Weird series

FSP Author Erin FrankelBoys and bullying were a part of my childhood. During middle school, I was bullied by a boy, and I became one of thousands of children who frequently miss school to avoid bullying. My mother, suspicious that something wasn’t right, asked me what was going on. Surely my stomach couldn’t be hurting every day. She was right. There was something else going on, and so we talked. We talked to each other. We talked to the school. I talked to a counselor. My teacher talked to me. I talked to my friends. All of that talking made me feel supported and more confident, and eventually things started to get better.

But the memory I have of my brother, who was bullied by other boys during his school years, is one of a more silent suffering. I can still remember what he said one day at the bus stop after a group of boys had been bullying him: “Don’t tell Mom.”

We have to tell someone, I remember thinking. Why doesn’t he want to talk about what is happening?

I know now that my brother probably felt ashamed and embarrassed—common feelings experienced by children who are involved in bullying—which likely led to his reluctance to talk. But there may also be cultural influences that make boys more reluctant than girls to talk when it comes to bullying. Consider how our culture encourages girls to express their feelings while encouraging boys to figure things out for themselves. Boys are told to man up, suck it up, toughen up, while girls are encouraged to open up. Then, consider the consequences of a culture in which boys can’t talk and express themselves. When feelings are suppressed, they come out in different ways. Doors get slammed, words get shouted, and in some cases, someone bullies or gets bullied. worried boy © Canettistock | Dreamstime.comWe may reach out to a boy who is involved in bullying only to find that he doesn’t want to talk at first. We are left to wonder what is going on inside his world. What can we do next?

We can keep reaching out and we can keep wondering. Because the truth is, we do right by boys when we take the time to wonder about their feelings. Isn’t that, after all, what we hope to teach children? Don’t we want them to wonder what someone else might be feeling? Isn’t that the heart of empathy? Even when attempts at conversation are met with Leave me alone or I don’t want to talk, the fact that you keep reaching out will mean the world to a boy who is reluctant to talk and feels alone.

As a children’s author who writes about bullying, I spend a lot of time wondering what boys feel when it comes to bullying. I listen to those who are able to open up, and I hear something very important. Their collective voices are the beginnings of conversations that we may not hear from the boys in our own lives. We can wonder, as we gently open that slammed door, if the boys we love might be coming from these places:

I’m sick of it. I wish people would just leave me alone. I try to mind my own business but this kid keeps messing with me. I don’t get why he picked me. Maybe I’m different. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. Nothing is ever going to change. Nobody cares.

I can’t stand it when I see kids being mean to other kids. I wish people would just stop. There is this boy who always gets bullied. It’s messed up. I feel really bad. Like I should be doing something. But if I say something, the other guys will turn on me. I’m worried about that kid, though. He’s always on his own lately. Nobody cares.

I don’t know why I do what I do—I just do it. I guess it’s just for fun. Everybody knows I’m only messing with that kid. He gets on my nerves, I guess. I don’t feel like talking about it. I don’t have anyone to really talk to anyway. Nobody cares.

Let the boys in your life know that you care. Let them know that they are not alone. Let them know that change is possible. Let them know that when they talk to you about bullying, you will be able to help them solve the problem.

I wonder if the boy who bullied me ever had the chance to talk about his feelings like I did. I wonder if anyone took the time to understand what was going on in his world. I wonder if anyone ever reached out to him. I wonder.

Weird Series from Free Spirit PublishingErin Frankel, the author of the Weird series, has a master’s degree in English education and is passionate about parenting, teaching, and writing. She taught ESL in Madrid, Spain, before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband Alvaro and their three daughters, Gabriela, Sofia, and Kelsey. Erin knows firsthand what it feels like to be bullied, and she hopes her stories will help children stay true to who they are and help put an end to bullying. She and her longtime friend and illustrator Paula Heaphy believe in the power of kindness and are grateful to be able to spread that message through their work. Next spring, Erin and Paula are releasing their fourth title with Free Spirit Publishing, Nobody!, a book about boys and bullying.
Read our interview with Erin.

Suggested Resources
Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World, by Rosalind Wiseman
Brutal Boys: Why (and How) Do Boys Bully, and What Can Parents Do about It?–article by Steve Palmer on The Search Institute’s Parent Further website

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.
FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Bullying & Conflict Resolution, Character Education | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Guest Post: Bullies or Best Friends? The Challenge of Interpreting Interpersonal Relationships

By Justin W. Patchin, coauthor of Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral

Originally Published on the Cyberbullying Research Center Blog

Patchin_Justin_FSP AUthorThe other night I found myself in the proximity of a group of guys who were playing a game together. As they played, they talked: about sports and relationships and game strategy and many other topics that you might imagine would come up among a group of young men. From my eavesdropping it seemed that they were all longtime acquaintances. But it was also evident that there were some major power dynamics at play within this bunch. One or two members dominated the conversation, while a few others sat back and focused their energy on the game rather than the gossip.

From an outsider’s perspective, much of the interpersonal interactions could easily be characterized as bullying. To be clear, there wasn’t any physical bullying going on, but I witnessed a lot of name calling, degradation, humiliation, and exclusion. Curse words were cast like paint in a Jackson Pollock piece. Bad gameplay was harshly criticized and one or another’s masculinity was regularly challenged based on what was said (or not said) and done (or not done). As a social scientist who explores these behaviors empirically on a daily basis, this represented a petri dish of the real-world manifestations of bullying that I regularly see in my data.

One of the things I noticed was that while no one was immune from attack, certain targets appeared to be favored. One among the group seemed to be persecuted more than any of the others. He had a way about him that seemed to attract ridicule and reproach. He behaved unconventionally (in the game, and, based on what I overheard, also in the “real world”), and was clearly lacking in social competence. I also noticed that the older members of this group seemed to be revered to an extent among the younger ones, and therefore their aggressive behaviors were often mimicked by the younger ones in an attempt to fit in (and perhaps also to avoid becoming browbeaten themselves).

Card_games_by Victor Vic from wikimedia commonsBut I have a confession to make. The interactions I have just described can be best characterized as participant observation, rather than purely observational, because I was a member of this group and they were all adults. In fact, I use the term “young men” very loosely when referring to those assembled because “thirty-something” me was the youngest of the group. The relationships and interchanges portrayed represented the dynamics not among a group of apathetic adolescents playing a MMORPG like World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2, but rather those of mostly white-collar academics in my monthly poker game.

It struck me as I contemplated my terrible cards that night that there is not all that much difference between the way we treat our best friends and our worst enemies. Taken out of context, an outside observer would surely have believed that bullying was occurring within our group. The behaviors expressed included all of the classic definitional characteristics: there was repeated, apparently intentional harassment (meanness, cruelty, etc.) carried out by those with perceived or actual power (social status; academic reputation?) against targets in a way that allowed for little defense.

Most of the comments were accompanied by laughter by many in the group, including the one being roasted, which may have masked the maliciousness of the malarkey. But we’ve learned through our conversations with teens who bully that a lot of bullying behaviors are done by young people who think they are just joking around. So I actually found myself wondering, after particularly punishing digs, whether some of the comments made that night might have crossed an imperceptible line. And if this boundary is difficult for adults to identify, how can we expect teens to know when something is taken too far? This is especially challenging because oftentimes targets of ridicule do in fact respond with laughter publicly—in an effort to save face—while privately they are really hurt by what was said.

Men_Talking_by Visitor 7 Creative Commons Share Alike wikimedia commons

Buddies or Bullies?

I also reflected on this as it relates to my research. As academics we like to debate the best way to define bullying. Or at least discuss the limitations of defining it in certain ways. If I were to survey my card-playing colleagues about their experiences with peer abuse by asking them, for example, if anyone has ever “said something mean to them” or “made fun of them in front of others” (two indicators included in the commonly used Olweus bully/victim questionnaire) they would have to say yes just based on how they were treated by their friends that night. But is it accurate to say that they were bullied? Often our research approaches don’t allow us to accurately distinguish between good-natured ribbing and malevolent meanness. As I have argued previously, I don’t believe that bullying can be done unintentionally. Even though someone’s feelings can certainly be hurt without intent, bullying by definition is deliberate. That said, whether hurtful actions qualify as bullying by academic standards or not is beside the point. If we are treating someone in ways that make them uncomfortable, humiliated, excluded, or hurt in any possible way, then we should stop. But how do we know if our comments are being received in that light? And when delivered from a distance, as online comments are, determining impact can be extremely difficult, no matter the age of the sender and receiver.

I doubt that most people would categorize the behaviors as I have described them as bullying. But are we, and research, able to tell the difference?

WordsWoundJustin W. Patchin, Ph.D., is an associate professor of criminal justice in the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. He is also co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, and coauthor of Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Bullying & Conflict Resolution | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Question for You: Are Dictionary Skills Important?

By Eric Braun

Minneapolis writer Eric Braun on Thursday, November 20, 2013.I love dictionaries, and that’s why I love Dictionary Day. Every October 16, the birthday of Noah Webster, we celebrate dictionaries with big feasts and rampant commercialism.

Well, maybe not in every community. But last night I was visited by the Ghost of Dictionary Day Past. It showed me a scene from 1978—second grade. My teacher, Mrs. Hall, sat at her desk with a red Merriam-Webster dictionary open in front of her and a big bag of peanuts in the shell. All of us students had our own dictionaries. Mrs. Hall turned an inch-thick clump of pages and called out a word: “Goggles.”

Webster_27s_Dictionary_advertisement_-_1888_-_Public domain

1888 Webster’s Dictionary Ad

A soft sound like the fluttering of thirty pairs of robin’s wings filled the room as we flipped through our dictionaries: fflt-fflt-fflt-fflt-fflt. When I found the word (I don’t mind boasting here that it was usually me who found it first—me or my nemesis Angela Jones), I raised my hand. Mrs. Hall called on me. “Page 472,” I said.

“That’s right,” she replied. And I got to come up to her desk and retrieve one peanut. I brought it back and added it to the small pile already on my desk. Angela Jones had a pile, too.

dictionarystandThe Ghost of Dictionary Day Past said nothing as adult me wept with nostalgia at the image of my younger self happily licking my page-flipping finger in preparation for finding the next word that Mrs. Hall would call out.

I awoke with a wistful countenance and a question forming in my gut. A lot has changed since then! Dangerous allergies keep peanuts far from any classroom, and outright competition, with such obvious winners and losers, is just as rare. Of course, the biggest difference is the way kids (and all of us) use the dictionary.

iphone-app-4-inch-screenshotAs we’re writing, our word processing program corrects our spelling and provides definitions if we need them. If we’re reading a book on a tablet, we can double-tap a confusing word and a definition pops up right there. Perhaps the most cumbersome dictionary action we take is going to a dictionary website such as, the site for Merriam-Webster. I even have a Merriam-Webster app on my phone. (I might be weird in that respect . . . but I like to think Angela Jones has the app, too.)

Part of me, the nostalgic part, feels like this is a real loss for kids today. The skill of using a dictionary, being nimble with the alphabet and the English language conventions that can make spelling tricky, must still have value. Of course as a book person, I miss the dictionary being a book, though I love my electronics as much as the next guy.

So here’s the question: Is it a loss?

Vintage in dictionaryBy rarely, if ever, using a physical dictionary, are kids failing to develop an important skill? Or maybe missing out on a certain pleasure? (Again, I might be weird in that respect.) Or are things just better now because they’re easier? Maybe the kid who double-taps a confusing word on a tablet would just skip it altogether if he’d have to go get an actual dictionary to look it up. That’s a literacy-building moment that might not have happened in the good old days.

I would love to hear what you think: Is using a real dictionary a meaningful skill in the 21st century?

Eric Braun is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor who loves things from the good old days like Saturday morning cartoons, stirrups on baseball uniforms, and E.T. Learn more at

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Teaching Strategies | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Best Behavior® Series, Found and Loved

Joyfully readingA teddy bear with most of his fur worn off. Blue jeans with patches on the patches. There is nothing like a little wear and tear to tell you that something is well loved.

Parents and educators are finding that our Best Behavior® series books tend to be well loved, too. Toddlers turn the pages and talk to the pictures. Many copies turn up in the funniest places.

Written by Elizabeth Verdick and Martine Agassi, the books feature lively illustrations by Marieka Heinlen that captivate kids.

Apparently they can be so appealing that they look downright delicious.

teeth-are-not-for-biting from bone-stare dot com Hands are not for hitting on You Tube

Kids act out the good things hands can do while the teacher reads Hands Are Not for Hitting aloud. A YouTube search found several videos of classrooms sharing the books.

Do you have a favorite Best Behavior® book? Where have you found one of our Best Behavior® books? At a bookstore, or under a bed? Snap a photo and email it to us.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Early Childhood, Publishing | Tagged ,