by Gene Marrano
With schools set to open locally in the next few weeks the topic of bullying is something that is bound to be on the minds of parents – and students – in many cases. One southwestern Virginia resident who wrote a fictional work about bullying 20 years ago has now re-released that book, which is geared towards the middle school aged children she once taught in Northern Virginia.
Sue Coryell’s “Eaglebait” is available locally at Ram’s Head bookstore and Printer’s Ink, and online at most bookselling sites. Focused on a shy 14 year old boy who is often bullied, Eaglebait follows Wardy’s narrative as he is supported by a teacher and his self esteem – a good weapon that can dull a bully’s influence – grows. “Middle school is just prime time for bullies,” said Coryell, who wanted to know how some survived that bullying period while others are overwhelmed by it.
Eaglebait won several awards when it was released two decades ago by Harcourt Press, including one from the New York Public Library and another from the International Reading Association.
Peer influence really takes off in middle school, said Coryell, as children break free somewhat from the sphere of influence their parents have. “They want to feel like they are part of something [in school],” noted Coryell, “but they’re not sure what it is they want to be a part of.” Sometimes that means falling in with the bullying crowd. “Its really just a tough time for kids to know who they are,” said Coryell, who taught at the intermediate, middle and high school levels for 30 years.
Coryell said the themes espoused in her book hold up well 20 years later, when organizations like the Roanoke County Prevention Council, on a local level, are focusing on the devastating effects of bullying along with other abusive behaviors. There is plenty of documentation that those who felt bullied in school or became outcasts resort to violence at times – as seen at Columbine High School and elsewhere.
Coryell feels school counselors, resource [police] officers and teachers can use her book as a tool. Her theory is that “bullies will always be with us. Bullies will be bullies. To have the kid who is being bullied find a way to cope with it [is the best option].” Tell someone you are being bullied and “find something you are really good at. It doesn’t matter what it is, you will gather people around you of like mind.” When that happens, said Coryell, a child is much less prone to bullying since there is strength in numbers.
Eaglebait’s main character loves science and is a gifted student, who flunks courses while building a laser in his basement. Becoming good at science lands him a mentor, something she advocates for troubled kids. There’s a twist in the book, which she calls writer’s license, but Wardy “does build self esteem.”
What’s really changed over the past 20 years is the advent of cyber-bullying: nasty text messages, e-mails and Facebook posts that can further damage a child’s self esteem. “The bullies have not changed… Neither has the devastation of being bullied,” said Coryell. “The method that has been added, which is just evil, is cyberbullying. There was no internet when I wrote [Eaglebait]. It is a truly abominable tool for those that wish to bully.” The internet however has also fostered an awareness of bullying that wasn’t there before, as is information on how to tackle it.
“I don’t think anybody ever again will say boys will be boys, they’ll just get over it. Just about every state in the union [is fighting it].” Coryell notes that Virginia has gotten high marks for what it has done to combat the problem. “I don’t think bullying is any different, the methods are. I think people know that times have changed.” See [email protected] for more about Sue Coryell and Eaglebait.