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Susan Stephenson, bullying and MONSTER MADDIE

18 March is the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. Today we are talking to author, Susan Stephenson (aka The Book Chook), about her picture book, Monster Maddie."Monster Maddie cover"

A bit about the book:

On Maddie’s first day at a new school, nobody notices her, even though she hangs around the edges of the other kids’ games and hopes to join in. On the second day, she becomes Monster Maddie, with ‘fangs and claws and wild, wild hair … “I’ll show them!” she said’. Of course her mean and hurtful behaviour doesn’t win her any friends and she realises nobody is going to invite her to play. She stomps away in tears—then, with the help of a curious kitten,she  finally comes up with a better way to join in on the playground.

What sparked the idea for you to write Monster Maddie?

As a school teacher, I saw lots of kids like Maddie. They didn’t understand how to make friends, and acted out. They did mean hurtful things in a desperate effort to be noticed and they certainly didn’t realise their behaviour was driving other kids further away. Sometimes those kids grow up to be bullies; sometimes they’re lucky—they realise what’s happening, and make an effort to be friendly. I wanted to write a book for those kids.

When I was at University, studying German, we read a book called Metamorphosis by a writer called Kafka. In the beginning of that story, the main character wakes up as a giant bug. I guess the idea of Maddie actually looking monsterish came from the profound effect that book had on me. I’ve also written a short story where a guy wakes up as a rooster. So far, I have only woken up as a human, but that doesn’t stop me checking the mirror each morning!

Did you ever feel like Maddie when you were growing up?

I certainly felt awkward in new situations, but I don’t remember putting ooze in people’s shoes and dirt in their shirts! I was lucky in that when I switched schools I had lots of my friends with me. Being a new kid is difficult. Often it seems that people are ignoring you, when they just need you to find a way to include them in a game.

How long did it take to write Monster Maddie?

Months and months. The hardest part for me is always the rewriting of a book. I get feedback on it from my writing friends, think about it, put it away for a while and make changes to it when I can see it with fresh eyes.

You say you have to rewrite after you write the story down. Is Monster Maddie very different from the first version you wrote?

It was always a story about a little girl who got mad when the kids at her new school wouldn’t notice her, and turned into a monster.  I think what changed was that it got fine-tuned. I deleted unnecessary words, made the structure of the story stronger, and worked hard to make sure the story sounded good to read aloud.

Have you met Monster Maddie‘s illustrator?

No, K.C.Snider lives in the USA and I live in Australia. But I talked to her via email.

Are you working on a new project at the moment?

At the moment, I’m working on two novels and a picture book. The picture book is about some sheep who want very much to go to the farmer’s wedding, only they aren’t invited. They try hard to get in, and end up succeeding in a most surprising way.

Monster Maddie includes 7 pages of activities, including a script for Monster Maddie to be performed. Do you think picture books make good theatre?

I think picture books are wonderful! They are perfect for kids to use to create their own reader’s theatre around, or just to act out the story for family and friends. I have a  series of four articles at The Book Chook blog where I talk you through the process of using Reader’s Theatre.

You can find out more about Susan Stephenson and her books on her website. The Book Chook has writing tips for kids in every issue of Alphabet Soup magazine. You can find more about literacy for parents and teachers on The Book Chook’s blog).

Author:

Rebecca Newman is a children's writer and poet, and the editor of the Australian children's literary blog, Alphabet Soup. rebeccanewman.net.au.