‘Mud Boy: a story about bullying’ was written by Sarah Siggs and illustrated by Amy Crosby. Using ‘mud ‘ as a metaphor, the book helps children to understand what bullying looks and feels like. Below is a blog piece written by author, mother and teacher, Sarah Siggs.
Have you ever bullied anyone? A few years ago, my answer to this would have been an indignant and resounding, ‘NO!’ But since researching for and writing Mud Boy I have realised that I may have unintentionally bullied someone. As I was growing up, there was a boy in my friendship group whom everyone referred to as Merrick – so I did too. I didn’t know at the time that Merrick was a reference to the Elephant Man. I can still see the half smile and shrug this friend always gave when we all merrily called him Merrick. If I could go back in time, I’d now view the name ‘Merrick’ as a huge and hideous mud word and I’d like to think I would jump between my friend and his name-callers and shout, ‘STOP!’
It was from wanting to scream, ‘STOP!’ at the children bullying one of my own children, that the idea for Mud Boy was born. I qualified as a teacher in 1987 and after teaching for 6 years in SEND schools, I had my children and dipped in and out of the teaching profession from then on. I have worked for Portage, been a Teaching Assistant, taught as a Supply Teacher in Primary and Secondary SEND schools, provided respite care and volunteered in Primary and Secondary schools, listening to reading. I thought that I had children and schools pretty much sussed. But when my own child started being bullied, I realised that there was a whole part of school life that I was wholly ignorant of. You see, bullying is at its best when it’s hidden, secretive and subtle. That is the power of bullying and the reason that teachers can’t always see it.
As a parent I started researching how best to support my primary aged child. At the time, the focus seemed to be on secondary school bullying. I felt it was too late to be dealing with bullying by then. I saw a need for a book. I wanted to write one that would help to nip bullying in the bud. The children who were bullying weren’t bad kids, they were unhappy kids. The children who were joining in weren’t bad kids either. I don’t think any of them truly understood how powerful their words were or how serious the effect their unkind behaviour was having. Sometimes children want to kill themselves because they are being bullied; some children do kill themselves. Being bullied is frightening and lonely. No child should ever feel sick and scared when they think about school. No child should ever feel so hopeless that they don’t want to be here any longer.
As a teacher I wanted to write a book that would help educate whole schools about the importance of being kind. I set about writing a book that could be shared with children as soon as they started school. My professional experience as a teacher now kicked in and I set myself the task of providing a resource that would give very clear messages to children whilst also giving a myriad of teaching opportunities for adults. I am confident that teachers will adapt and use Mud Boy in a way which best suits their particular class, but I’m happy to pass on my own teaching ideas too.
Amy Crosby’s illustrations married so well with the story I had written that it wasn’t unusual for me to get teary when I saw them for the first time. I am beyond grateful for the chance meeting in the staff room toilet, as I dashed to the loo one lunch break, that ultimately led me to her. We started meeting up in a coffee shop in Worthing and her youth, intelligence and enthusiasm injected a constant flow of new life into the project.
When Dr Pooky Knightsmith offered forward her own expertise and wisdom I started to believe that Mud Boy might truly make a difference. I had heard Pooky talk at a Mental Wellbeing conference as part of my research for the book and when I finally decided that my writing was finished, I sent her an audio of me reading it through. Her guide for supporting adults at the end of the book makes Mud Boy a resource to be reckoned with. Pooky, seeing the book’s worth, helped catapult it firmly into the lap of JKP – which brings us to where we are now. I feel I’ve done all I can do. Now it’s time for us to hand Mud Boy over to all the teachers and parents and carers out there and pray that its message gets to all the children who need it.
Just one more thing before I go – while researching for this blog I read quite a bit about Joseph Merrick – turns out he was a pretty fantastic person. I feel good about that, because, remember that boy I used to call Merrick? … Well, he was pretty fantastic too.
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