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5 Questions With... Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones (DEAR BULLY)

by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones
October 14, 2011
Megan Kelley Hall is the author of the young adult novels SISTERS OF MISERY and THE LOST SISTER. She lives north of Boston. You can visit her online at www.megankelleyhall.blogspot.com.

Carrie Jones is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the Need series—which includes NEED, CAPTIVATE, and ENTICE—as well as GIRL, HERO; LOVE (AND OTHER USES FOR DUCT TAPE); and TIPS ON HAVING A GAY (EX) BOYFRIEND. She lives in Maine. You can visit her online at www.carriejonesbooks.com.


Can you tell our members how this project came about?

Megan Kelley Hall: As a Massachusetts resident, I was following Phoebe Prince’s “bullycide” very closely. Both my books feature the ultimate "mean girls" and I’d spoken at schools about bully prevention. During the writing process, I had to dig deep to make "mean girls" as evil as I possibly could. And yet, when I heard the numerous bullying stories that were leading the headlines, I felt as if the “bullies” had jumped out of my book and into real life. I was also struck by the number of times I had done book signings where I would say to the teens and their mothers who attended my signings, "I hope you never meet girls as mean as the ones in this book." The overwhelmingly common response was "We already have."

Carrie Jones and I formed the group YAAAB (Young Adult Authors Against Bullying) in April 2010 when we both coincidentally blogged about the Phoebe Prince case on the same day. I reached out to Carrie expressing my frustration with this case and the fact that bullying that seemed to be growing at a ridiculously fast rate. We owed it to our readers to discourage bullying—to make it "uncool."

Carrie Jones: Megan and I had both blogged about bullying on the same day. For me, it was much bigger than the tragedy of Phoebe Prince. It was also about little girls like Jazmin Lovin, a kindergartener who was allegedly bullied at her school. It was about kids who were bullied about their sexual orientation, their size, their parents; kids who were bullied about anything.

So as an author, I did the only thing I could think of doing, which is calling for stories. The hope was that if we all shared how we had been bullied, kids could find hope in our survival, hope in the fact that some super cool authors like Heather Brewer or Alyson Noel or R. L. Stine had survived and that they could too.

Megan Kelly Hall
Megan: We started by creating a Facebook page that kicked off our entire "movement" to end bullying. This was the day that we decided to use our platform as Young Adult authors to actually facilitate change and to be a voice for those kids who cannot speak out or are too afraid to be heard. Our Facebook group jumped from 5 to 1500 members in one weekend. We are now closing in on nearly 5,000 members. Carrie and I were beyond thrilled when HarperTeen offered to put all of our stories into an anthology.

There are seventy authors featured in DEAR BULLY, including Megan McCafferty, Ellen Hopkins, and Nancy Werlin—in other words, some of the biggest names in YA. How did you get them to open up about such a raw topic?

Carrie: The first thing we did was open up our blogs and call for stories. Most of the authors we knew personally and they hopped right on board. It snowballed from there, and we really did a minimal amount of solicitation. We probably received more than double that number of submissions and responses.

Megan: Right away, a large number of authors jumped on board of this cause—wanting to be involved in any way possible. The thought of having 70 authors— well-known, highly successful writers—sharing their personal bullying stories with their fans was something beyond what we had ever hoped for. It’s a book that I wish I had when I was a teenager. I was also struck by how generous and open these authors were to share their stories. I was shocked at how many are still nursing their scars from bullying experiences in their past. Many were eager to share their stories, so that they could give their readers hope and the courage to keep forging ahead.

The stories in DEAR BULLY come from all angles: from the point of view of the victim, the mother, the friend, the sibling, the classmate—even a few from the actual bully. Some of the stories are light-hearted, while others are raw and emotional. All of them drive home the point that bullying is something that almost everyone has experienced.

And while that is a sad fact, they want to prove that it's not a rite of passage. It doesn't make you stronger, wiser, or better. But it is something that can be overcome, something that can be changed, something that is relateable, and something that one should never be ashamed of.

Through these stories, the authors want to show that they understand what teens are going through today. It is important to encourage bystanders to speak up and make bullying unacceptable. Parents and adults must get involved. Bullying is something that people no longer have to endure—at least, not by themselves.

On the DEAR BULLY companion site, you plan to publish one new story that’s NOT included in the book each week. Will these essays come exclusively from authors, and how long do you plan on publishing fresh pieces?

Megan: Yes, HarperTeen is going ahead and publishing stories that were accepted for the anthology, but had to be cut due to spacing issues. Since we received well over 200 essays and only were able to print 70, we have a lot of content to share.

We also have a goal of making the website more interactive—going back to the discussions that we started on our original Facebook site. And since there are new stories about bullying nearly every day (hopefully there will be more good news than bad going forward), we will always have fresh news and content to share with our readers.

Have you heard from any educators about how they are or plan to use DEAR BULLY in their classes?

Carrie Jones
Carrie: Educators from Maine to Oregon have already contacted us about using DEAR BULLY in their classrooms. A lot are picking out stories that they hope will open up discussions with their kids. There’s been so much positive feedback from so many caring teachers, librarians and guidance counselors. It’s one of the things that make me happiest about the project. One school system in Maine is doing an entire day with DEAR BULLY as its focus. That’s a hero kind of school system. They really give me hope.

[NOTE: You can download a Discussion Guide for DEAR BULLY, written by bullying expert C.J. Bott, here.]

Megan: Since there are so many stories from so many different points of view, our hope is that educators, coaches, teachers and counselors can use a different story for each unique situation. The goal of the book is to open up a dialogue about bullying. An opportunity for teens to express to their peers, their parents, their teachers what they are feeling, what they are seeing and how to gauge the level of bullying that is going on in their lives.

Many teachers are taking cues from book bloggers. Many bloggers, in addition to reviewing the anthology, have been adding their own bullying stories to the mix. This is a great opportunity for teens AND teachers to share their personal experiences with bullying. Many will be surprised at how similar their stories are. Perhaps there will be some eye-opening experiences when teens realize that their peers are dealing with similar situations.

A portion of the book’s proceeds goes to STOMP Out Bullying. Can you tell us a little about the organization and why you chose it?

Megan: There are so many organizations that are doing amazing work…. PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, Southern Poverty Law’s Teaching Tolerance, BullyBust, the Trevor Project and their “It Gets Better” message.... It was a VERY difficult process of just picking one.

Carrie: STOMP Out Bullying is a passionate organization with great leadership and a tremendous amount of web resources, which are readily available to all people dealing with bullying. Like Megan said, it was incredibly hard to pick just one organization to work with, but STOMP’s online resources are so vital to helping kids and educators, that it pushed us in that direction.

© 2012 International Reading Association. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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