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: 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: 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?
Phyllis: 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.
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