On the first day of kindergarten in 2010, Michelle Tunno Buelow’s oldest daughter, Riley, was bullied on the school playground.
Beverly Crest resident Buelow couldn’t believe it. Like so many other first-time kindergarten mothers before her, Buelow, 37, had put her child on the bus and hoped she would be okay.
When Buelow asked Riley how her first day went, Buelow recalled her daughter saying, “A yellow-haired girl on the playground said, ‘I hate you. Don’t ever talk to me again.’ ”
Buelow was outraged, and kept pressing her daughter for details. In hindsight, Buelow said she felt her own reaction exacerbated the situation.
“I had a pit in my stomach thinking that, for 5 1/2 years, I had poured love and self-respect into my child, gave 150 percent, and this is my child’s first experience at school,” said Buelow.
Buelow tried to drop it but realized her daughter wasn’t the only person being bullied. In talking to many people about how to handle such behavior, Buelow got different opinions, from ignoring the situation to fighting back.
“I didn’t see anyone, myself included, doing what should be done,” said Buelow, who has a minor in psychology and is owner of Bella Tunno, a baby and child accessory company. “I didn’t know the right answer.”
Buelow realized that trying to deal with difficult situations in the moment was a recipe for disaster. Buelow said she felt parents and children needed to talk and think things through before implementing solutions. She also recognized that bullying was not just a problem in her school but nationwide: “160,000 kids per day skip school because they are scared of bullying,” she said.
Buelow, wife to Todd, 38, and mom to Riley, 8, and Ella, 5, decided that she wasn’t going to do nothing.
She reached out to Lili Hall, president and CEO of Knock, a creative branding and advertising group based in Minneapolis. Together they brainstormed, compiled an advisory board of educators, psychologists, and parents, and founded Bully in a Box to address the bullying problem.
In November 2012, Bully in a Box launched three read-aloud interactive iBooks targeted to children ages 6 through 9. The iBooks provide parents, educators and children an opportunity to discuss difficult situations and find solutions.
“We brought the stories to life through specific use of color, hand-rendered type and a unique look to the characters that embraced their diversity and individuality,” said Hall. “This approach was intended to make the stories memorable, engaging and approachable for kids and parents to start conversations about bullying.”
“Katerina Faterina,” “Stinky Stevie” and “Peter Pummeler,” written by educator Cheryl Tunno and Buelow and illustrated by Tomás Villaseñor and Andrés Guzmán, can be purchased for $1.99 each from iTunes. Five percent of sales go to whatdoyouchoose.org, which supports anti-bullying campaigns.
“The short, open-ended, real-life scenarios are presented with questions intended to enlist the help of the reader to resolve issues,” said Cheryl Tunno, Buelow’s mother, co-author, and retired teacher with 33 years of experience. “Through the books, students, parents and educators are given the opportunity to identify with bullies and victims and to practice making wise decisions.”
Shannon Kinlaw, a Charlotte mother of first-grade twins, found the books helpful. “The open-ended endings were a wonderful way for the children to come up with creative conclusions to the stories and have a better understanding of bullying and all it’s forms,” said Kinlaw. “We found the books equally appropriate for our son and our daughter.”
Two more iBooks are due in the next couple of months. Buelow, who was never a target of bullying, wants Bully in a Box to help families “capture bullying, put it in a box, and put a lid on it.”
Marissa Brooks is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marissa? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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