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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

To This Day: For the Bullied and Beautiful

Continuing on with YA Week (middle grades edition!), I picked up at BEA last year Shane Koyczan's To This Day: For the Bullied and Beautiful. It looked intriguing and I love recommending older books for older kids who are in high school but still want something meaningful. 

In 2013, a spoken word poet presented his manifest on bullying that ultimately reached over twelve million people. Shane's work is an anti-bullying poem that was animated with intensely lovely graphics, and those same lyrics are put on the page with new graphics done by 30 artists from all over the world. Each verse is an interpretation of personal empowerment.

This is an absolutely lovely poem that resonates with anyone who went through childhood. (That's all of us.) Bullying is a problem, to be sure, but I believe we would be hard-pressed to find a person who wasn't picked on at some point in their school career and who doesn't know what it is like to feel like an outsider and not in control of those feelings. The story of the girl called ugly who grows up to have a warped sense of beauty was especially powerful, and in the moment where Shane speaks to her to tell her that her children see the beauty in her heart first is a punch in the gut. It's a reminder that no matter how we see ourselves, our children will always look to us as their parent first. Putting aside our own hurt will only help our young ones develop a positive view of themselves.

The opening lines, where Shane tells us that he called pork chops "karate chops," which ultimately leads to a misunderstanding when called to the principal's office to explain bruises on his body, was interesting to me on a professional level. It was a huge reminder how willing we are as adults to jump to conclusions rather than dig deeper with questions. Now, I don't know how old Shane is, but I do know what was happening in the 1980's and the jump-to-conclusions epidemic sweeping the nation regarding child endangerment. It is easy to see how others wanted to find something wrong without asking just a few more questions of Shane--what do you mean your grandmother gives you karate chops? Oh, and how did you get those bruises?

Ultimately, though, this poem is a story of finding self-love and self-esteem in the darkest, most hard to reach places. The comparison of depression to a circus was pretty spot on, and the introducation and post-script were also excellent companions to using the story with older students as a way to express what uncalled-for mocking and even rudeness do to people. I say that this is more than bullying, because harsh words affect us as much as consistent, mean, sense of power differentials do. Humanity, man. We just need a little of it. 

For purchase below. 

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