I usually don't comment on my posts about other books, but this one is important. We've become more aware of bullying with the help of some notable anti-bullying campaigns, however the reality is that many, many kids still experience bullying on a daily basis. Our schools struggle to keep up, and our kids are afraid to speak out. We need to educate ourselves and our children on the courage and compassion needed to stand up to bullying. Books like "Elliot K. Carnucci" by Catherine Depino, and the highly acclaimed "Everybody Sees the Ants" by AS King remind us of worlds that still desperately need adult attention and assistance.
The kids at Ralph Bunche Middle School love to pick on Elliot Kravitz-Carnucci. He struggles with his weight, looks like a geek, makes top honors, and lives above the Carnucci Home for Funerals in South Philadelphia with his distant, workaholic father and Nonna, his quirky, overbearing grandmother.
Since his parents divorced, he splits spending his time with his funeral director father and his mother Rayna, who dreams of becoming the queen of commercials on the west coast.
At the hands of his peers, Elliot experiences a series of bullying episodes that escalate from entrapment in a school supply closet to a brutal “swirly” (head dunk in the toilet) that lands him in the hospital emergency room.
Elliot has a small circle of loyal friends and a mentor named Duke, an aging school custodian, who root for him to overcome his bullying issues so that he can enjoy his life as a teenager and a budding singer/performer. Can Elliot win his fight against the nasty bullies, or is he doomed forever? Read this funny, sad, and crazy book to find out.
An Interview with Catherine
How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
My daughter, a high school counselor, suggested that I write a book about bullying as she believed it was a very important issue in schools today. As a teacher and department head in a city high school, I’d also seen kids bully one another and felt that by writing a book about it I could shed some light on the problem. I wrote Blue Cheese Breath and Stinky Feet: How to Deal with Bullies, my first book about bullying, for the American Psychological Association and have been writing books on the topic ever since.
After that, I wrote In Your Face, Pizza Face: A Girl’s Bully-Busting Book about girls’ bullying, which presents differently from boys’ bullying. I subsequently wrote a bully-prevention non-fiction book for teachers and one for parents.
Elliot K. Carnucci is a Big, Fat Loser: A Book About Bullying, my latest book, and the subject of this interview, is my favorite book because I feel that I know the character and the setting well, having worked in three high schools. In this and all my books, I want to make the point that everyone has to work together to help keep children bully-free: the child, the parent and extended family, and the school community.
What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
I wanted to show how an ordinary high school student subjected to bullying could use his own resources and enlist the aid of his friends and a caring mentor to combat bullying. I believe that I portrayed the characters, situation, and setting realistically because I’ve seen events like the ones in Elliot K. Carnucci is a Big, Fat Loser play out in every high school that employed me.
I also wanted to approach a very serious subject with humor because I thought kids would relate to it better if the story wasn’t totally sad and heavy. I believe that I’ve achieved my goals because all of my reviews so far have been positive.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The hardest part of writing Elliot had to do with Elliot’s mentor’s illness. Since I fashioned the character of Mr. Boardly after a wonderful school custodian I knew, I hated to see him face serious health challenges like lung cancer and heart problems.
It was also difficult writing about the funeral business (Elliot’s dad runs a funeral home and the family lives there). Learning about the business required extensive research since I knew nothing about it. However, I have to say that I got great satisfaction writing this book and would love to write a sequel that chronicles Elliot’s efforts to help other kids with their bullying issues.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I loved delving into the psyches of all the characters and making them interact together. The book contains a variety of personalities and trying to get them to meld and complement one another was a real challenge. The most quirky character in the book is Nonna, Elliot’s grandmother. She’s bossy and over-bearing but, at the same time, lovable. When she finds a love interest, Armand the plumber, she sets everyone in the family’s life topsy-turvy.
Out of all the fiction books I’ve written, Elliot is my favorite character because he meets his challenges head-on and doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He also knows when he needs help and isn’t afraid to ask for it.
Are there misconceptions that people have about your book?
My book aims to treat all ethnic groups with respect and fairness. Someone from a publishing company got the impression I was stereotyping Italian-Americans. That couldn’t be further from the truth; after all, I’m Italian-American myself. I responded that if we can’t laugh at ourselves what good is it? I think we shouldn’t worry so much about political correctness as there’s a lot of hypocrisy connected to it. I love my ethnic group and see beauty in every other one. I think we need to lighten up and enjoy our differences and similarities.
What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject/genre, that isn't so?
Many people think that bullies are the way they are because they were persecuted themselves. In most cases, that’s not true. Most of them are mean, nasty people who need to pick on someone in order to feel important. We need to stop feeling sorry for bullies and concentrate on the victims.
What is the most important thing that people DON'T know about your subject/genre, that they need to know?
They need to know that one person can’t stamp out bullying without help from others. It takes a group effort if it’s to work. Kids, parents (and extended family), and school personnel need to work in concert to help a bullied child. One person can’t do it alone. Constant communication between home and school is a must in order to stop a bully from hurting your child physically or psychologically. I talk about how to navigate the school system in Who Says Bullies Rule?, my book for parents.
What inspires you?
Reading other writers, particularly Shakespeare and poets like Cummings inspires me. I want every book I write, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, to have a certain flow to it; I want it to sound appealing to the ear. Reading these works often helps me accomplish this in my writing.
How did you get to be where you are in your life today?
I got to this point by working very hard, not by good luck. I spent many years studying to become a teacher and department head. My degree in curriculum theory and development helped me greatly in writing my non-fiction books in that it helped me become more organized and attentive to using research wisely.
Attending The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference helped me publish my first book. I entered contests, won them; these manuscripts later became full-length books. Listening to other writers talk about their experiences helped me learn important things I needed to know to get published.
I also learned that it’s important not to quit, no matter how hard a situation is. Don’t let rejections stop you. Work hard to tailor your writing to the publication you’re writing for, and remember that if one editor doesn’t want your book, there’s always another. And, of course, there’s self-publishing is always a good option.
An Excerpt from the book
“Help–I can’t breathe–let me out. Somebody help...”
I pounded the inside of the musty supply closet until my knuckles turned blue. Did anybody even have the key?
What if they don’t come? What if I’m trapped here all night?
I could hear loud voices and laughing, so I knew Kyle Canfield and one of his friends from the basketball team were there, waiting to see if I would cave in and plead for mercy.
The bell blared. Classes changed. Kids stampeded through the halls. Then, silence.
Finally I heard someone shout, “I’ve got the key, Doc.”
“Thanks, Duke,” Doc Greely, the assistant principal, said to Mr. Boardly, the man who’d sprung me loose.
Mr. Boardly, the head custodian, better known as Duke, offered me his arm, and I stumbled out of the closet. He was as thin as his mop handle, but all muscle–no flab like me. A scruffy white beard covered half his face.
He slammed the closet door shut and bolted the lock. “One of the hall guards reported noise coming from this area. We came as soon as we heard.”
Duke patted my shoulder. “Let me know if I can help, Elliot.” I could hear his keys clanging as he walked down the hall humming “Duke of Earl,” that old sixties song he loved. That’s where he got his nickname.
“Up to their old tricks again, Elliot?” Doc asked on the way to his office.
About the Author
Catherine DePino has sold thirteen books for parents, teachers, and children to mainstream publishers. She self-published her fourteenth book, Elliot K. Carnucci is a Big, Fat Loser: A Book About Bullying because she wanted to give it a wider forum. Her background includes a BS in English and Spanish education, a Master’s in English education, and a doctorate in Curriculum Theory and Development and Educational Administration from Temple University. The author worked for many years as an English teacher, department head of English and world languages, disciplinarian, and curriculum writer in the Philadelphia School District. After this, she worked at Temple as an adjunct assistant professor and student teaching supervisor.
Catherine has also written articles for national magazines, including The Christian Science Monitor and The Writer. For many years she served on the board of The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. She holds membership in the Association of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Her new self-help book, 101 Easy Ways for Women to De-Stress, Reinvent, and Fire Up Your Life in Retirement, appeared on the market in March, 2014.
Visit her website at www.catherinedepino.com. Website | Facebook Author Page
Books by Catherine:
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Angela Shelley, herself.
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