Bullying is something Malinda Kirkpatrick-Bertels has not only experienced, she’s witnessed it, and hopes to help stop it dead in its tracks with her book, “Just Pete.”
“It’s a book for anyone who has ever been the victim of bullying or has seen it happen to someone else,” she said.
Kirkpatrick-Bertels, a Highland Middle School teacher and mother, reached her lifelong goal of publishing a book four years ago. She’s always had a “love” and “passion” for writing and teaching ever since she was a little girl.
However, she never realized the subject of bullying would hit home for so many youth — from her own students to those nationwide. Kirkpatrick-Bertels said she has “presented at many schools and conferences all across the state from Chicago all the way down to Carbondale.”
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Julie Carson, a seventh-grade literature teacher at Shiloh Middle School, spent a unit in her class reading the novel aloud to students, talking about its main themes and how they related to the students’ lives.
“Bullying is a serious social issue plaguing our schools across this nation. It’s her hope that ‘Just Pete’ will act as a catalyst in reducing the problem of bullying in and out of classrooms everywhere,” Carson said. “They — all 55 of the students — wrote her letters sharing with her how they enjoyed the book and what it meant to them because the book is about bullying and family so it kind of hit home for a lot of them. They were all very moving and good letters.”
Last month, many of Carson’s students converged with their families at the Shiloh Middle School library to meet the author.
For more than an hour, students and their parents asked questions about Kirkpatrick-Bertels’ life, experiences, book, writing process and decisions for character and thematic elements.
Being bullied for her size in junior high “inspired” her to write the book in the first place, she said.
“I was 5-foot-9 as a seventh grader, and I was a toothpick, so I was teased a lot for my stature. And, I feel like well, you know, Pete is teased because he’s a heavier kid, at least until he gets into high school near the end of the book,” she said. “I see in the hall and in my classroom and in the lunchroom, and you hear about different bullying situations, and so I just kind of incorporated a lot of what I’ve seen and a lot of what I know into some of the things in the book.”
During her presentation Kirkpatrick-Bertels read aloud one of the letters from the students, Hunter Dawson, 12, who signed the letter “your biggest fan.”
“I think that ‘Just Pete’ didn’t just change me, it changed the whole seventh grade. I think it helped us to realize that we are getting older and more mature,” Hunter wrote. “I know that people are going through these tough times like Pete, and I really believe it has really touched everybody’s lives who read ‘Just Pete.’”
He was at the event too, and said he was “excited” to meet the author and have her sign his copy.
Following the presentation, Hunter said, “reading the book with my class was like a roller coaster of emotions — I really enjoyed it.”
Kathleen Wilson, mother of 13-year-old Shiloh Middle School student Alex Wilson, said she thought the Kirkpatrick-Bertels’ presentation was “very intriguing.”
“(Alex) was on the receiving end of bullying before and I think the book has helped a lot this year with the kids because we haven’t had any issues and we haven’t heard anything like ‘talks’ being had in the school with teachers and students like there were last year,” Wilson said.
Braden Neighbors, 12, another Shiloh Middle School student who attended the presentation, said, “I loved it — the book and meeting her.”
“The book really helped me believe and realize that other kids have been bullied and I’m not the only one,” Braden said.
“Just Pete,” is available on Amazon.com.
The novel focuses on the adolescent years of the protagonist, Pete Gilmore. As an only child with no friends, Pete sets out to change his fate as a lonely misfit when he begins his freshman year at New Haven High School, but leading antagonist Nick Johnson, who has bullied Pete throughout childhood gets in the way. A tragedy brings the two together in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise imagined.
Kirkpatrick-Bartels said the book serves as an example that sometimes bullies need to be loved too.
The author told Shiloh students “patience and understanding through the deaths in their lives were the keys to their bond,” which in turn, countered the negative in their relationship.
“(Nick) was bullying for a reason — he had major issues in his life, and I want people to realize that. That sometimes bullies — they don’t do it because they like it, sometimes they do it because they don’t know how else to be and I wanted students to understand that, to see that,” she said.