Just as the community engaged in a heated debate about the need to show elementary school students a video explaining the struggles of a transgender child, a noted local psychologist will be reading from her new book on bullying Sunday at Brewed Awakenings Café.
Dr. Smita Nagpal, co-owner of Still Waters Counseling, is reading Brian & The Bully, a book she co-wrote with Elizabeth Mikesch, a Saline High School graduate. The book was illustrated by Britten Daywell, of Ann Arbor.
Nagpal will be reading from the book at noon, Sunday. Following the reading, she’ll lead a talk on the topic of bullying and then she’ll sign copies of the book.
Bullying is a common source of pain, depression, and other mental health issues for youngsters. Anywhere from 25 to 33 percent of all children experience bullying in school. Nagpal has worked with children for many years – and bullying is one of the common subjects she helps kids deal with.
“I wanted to write stories on topics that commonly come up with the children I work with,” Nagpal said. She’s also composed stories on anger, hyperactivity and anxiety – but those have not yet been published.
Brian and the Bully was more than five years in the making. It took a year to write the draft – and then Nagpal got busy with other things for nearly five years. But the issue kept calling her back. She wanted to produce a book that helped children and helped adults help children.
“From the books I’ve read on bullying, I don’t believe there is anything quite like this book,” Nagpal said.
Brian and the Bully is written from the perspective of the bullied child (Brian) and his struggles. Brian is trying to deal with this bully and, to his frustration, the adults in his life aren’t always able to provide the shelter he’s seeking.
“Children face a lot of situations every day. When they go to an adult, they are usually given the same three or four answers and most of the times, those answers do not end up working, because these issues are often complex,” Nagpal said.
For example, a common response a parent might provide is for the student to walk away from the bully, or to stand up to the bully. Both can make the situation worse.
“There is no single tool for every situation. It’s important for us to talk to children and listen closely so we can get a grasp on what the problem is,” Nagpal said. “Then we can start to provide the child with the right tools to deal with the bully.”
Toward the end of her story, Nagpal also addresses some of the things that caused the bully to act out.
The book finishes with four pages of information for parents, kids and other adults. The first is a page from Brian, providing parents with tips they can use to help children deal with bullies. The second page is a series of questions for kids about the incidents in the story. The last two pages of the book are a note to parents and caregivers.
Although she chose to write the book with the child’s voice, Nagpal said she was careful not to talk down to children. Similarly, Daywell’s illustrations are moody and abstract, and not cartoony.
“All the feedback I’ve received from children is that they appreciate the story and they get it,” Nagpal said.
Nagpal published the book on Amazon’s CreateSpace platform. Mikesch has a Masters of Fine Art in fiction from UMass Amherst and she’s published a collection of short stories. Nagpal and Mikesch worked together on the concepts and Mikesch helped her find voices for her characters. They have completed four stories. Nagpal hopes to have those stories illustrated and published in the future.
The book is available for purchase on Amazon.com at Brewed Awakenings Café, located at the corner of Moon Road and Michigan Avenue.