Today I have Jacqueline Houtman stopping by to speak on bullying. She has also offered a signed paperback of her novel The Reinvention of Edison Thomas.
Many thanks to Jodie and Amy for hosting this month of Bullying Awareness posts. It has been very enlightening to read about so many different aspects of bullying from so many perspectives. It’s my turn today.
Bullying is a huge problem for kids in our schools. It’s an even bigger problem for kids with Asperger’s syndrome, which is a part of the autism spectrum, a group of conditions that affect the way a person communicates with others. People with Asperger’s syndrome may have an advanced vocabulary but struggle with some of the more subtle aspects of spoken language and social interactions. Kids with Asperger’s have been called the single most bullied population, and studies have reported that up to 94% of Aspergian kids have been bullied. Aspies are three times more likely to be the target of bullies than their typically developing siblings.
Aspergian kids can seem “a little different,” which makes them tempting targets for bullies. They can be socially and physically awkward. They have trouble reading social cues, and they may be gullible and eager to please. Kids on the autism spectrum may not even realize that they are being bullied.
It’s that last bit that I wanted to highlight in my novel for young people, The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press 2010). Eddy, the protagonist, is on the autism spectrum. Like most kids on the spectrum, he has to deal with bullies. His tormentor, Mitch, was once a friend of Eddy’s, but now Mitch targets Eddy for some nasty pranks, getting him sent to the Principal’s office.
Because Eddy isn’t very socially aware, I wanted the reader to figure out before Eddy does that it’s his old buddy Mitch who’s behind the increasingly distressing pranks. Eddy still perceives Mitch as his friend, and so he’s sort of stuck in that mindset. Mitch realizes this, and takes advantage of Eddy. I wrote the book from Eddy’s point of view, but I had to also show the reader what Eddy’s missing. I didn’t think Eddy was self-aware or eloquent enough to pull it off in first person, so I went with third person.
The good news is that Eddy eventually finds some real friends to help him out. They like him for who he is—a science geek with a quirky sense of humor and an amazing memory for seemingly random facts. They help him learn how to navigate the stormy seas of middle school.
I’m pleased that The Reinvention of Edison Thomas has just been released in paperback, with a new cover and additional material, including discussion questions and resources. I’ll be giving a signed copy away.
Jacqueline Houtman spent much of her life in training as a scientist, earning a PhD in Medical Microbiology and Immunology. After leaving the lab, she began a career as a freelance science writer. Her middle grade novel, The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Front Street 2010) is an example of what she calls “sciency fiction,” incorporating accurate science as an integral part of the story. It is the winner of the Tofte/Wright Children’s Literature Award and has been selected by Read On Wisconsin!, the Kansas State Reading Circle, CCBC Choices and reading lists for the Charlie May Simon Award, the Charlotte Award, and the Garden State Children’s Book Award. She can be reached through her website, Twitter (@jjhoutman), or Facebook.
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