Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Offenders - Jerry Craft

The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention! is an action / adventure story designed to teach kids about the negative effects of bullying. It's the story of 5 school bullies who get superpowers, but instead of turning into cool heroes, they take on the characteristics of the kids they pick on.

I write for young people because when I was a kid, I didn’t like to read. I only read Marvel Comics and whatever books I was forced to read in school. As an adult, I realize the importance of reading and do what I can to reach reluctant readers. I focus on creating characters that are interesting enough to get a kid to read a book on his or her own.

Guided Reading level – W
Grade level Equivalent- 5
Interest level- grades 5-8 (middle school reader) Ages 12-up

You can see more of my work and learn more about me on my website.

Tell us why you wrote this book and created these characters

I wrote “The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention!” because it seems as if bullying has reached epidemic proportions. Many books that I see are about kids who ARE bullied. My book is about the kids who are DOING the bullying. One teacher told me she read one of my books in class and a young girl gasped and said, “Oh no, I just did that to someone this morning! I didn’t realize it was bad. I have to go apologize.” I couldn’t ask for more than that.

Tell something about the characters you would like young readers to grasp.

Since I have loved superhero stories since my Marvel Comic days, The Offenders is about 5 school bullies who get superpowers, but instead of turning into cool looking heroes, they look like the kids they pick on. So one gets really smart, but physically uncoordinated; one gets super thin; one gains 100 pounds; one gets two large metallic buck teeth; and the girl who calls kids mousey shrinks down to the size of a mouse! Now they have to protect the school, but they’re too embarrassed to go outside. It’s a lesson in Karma!

Plus, when the kids transform, they trade physical characteristics with each other. So it’s hard to like a kid, or not like him because of how he or she looks. Because it changes.

How do you see your book fitting into schools and into the concept of Windows, Mirrors and Sliding glass doors.

One of the things I’m most proud of is that the main characters are 3 boys and 2 girls from very diverse backgrounds; both racially and economically. I did a LOT of research to avoid traditional stereotypes and to create characters that kids want to know better. It’s also a perfect book for schools because it makes kids aware of how their words and actions can affect other kids’ lives. There’s also plenty of humor and excitement, so it never comes across as a lecture. We all know how much kids “love” lectures. ;)

I tried to be descriptive enough where kids can see what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes, and enjoy the walk.

Share a little about your research and other efforts to make the portrayal of your characters culturally accurate

I am most proud of Dexter Diaz, who is Puerto Rican. As an African-American man, I have always been acutely aware at how stereotypes have shaped the way that our kids have been portrayed. So the last thing that I wanted to do was to be guilty of that myself. So after I wrote Dexter’s chapters, I gave them to two friends who are Puerto Rican, and asked them to be VERY critical. One is a male author, the other is a mom (obviously female).

They told me what they liked, and told me where they thought that my portrayal was inaccurate. So I kept working on it, until it had passed both of their tests. The same goes for Bobby Bonderman, who is a Korean boy adopted by White parents. In fact, this was probably the most research I have ever done for a book, and I’ve illustrated and/or written about 18.

I also hired my two teenage sons as co-authors to give authenticity to the characters. So if the characters are playing a video game, they made sure I didn’t have them playing Pac Man or Space Invaders. I had a mom email me to say that after reading the book, she finally knew what her kids were talking about!

What you have done to insure quality in the finished product in terms of content, editing, and appropriateness for the age range.

First, I never do any book that I don’t want my kids to read, so there’s never anything inappropriate in my work. I was also fortunate to get 2 schools to test my book, before releasing it to the public. One school in upstate NY chose it for their “One School, One Read” program. So not only did I hear from kids, but I also heard from teachers and librarians. To me, that’s the ultimate seal of approval.

Most recently it was chosen for PACER’s first ever bookclub. PACER is one of the world’s leading anti-bullying organizations. They are the ones who made October National Bullying Awareness Month.

Here’s what they had to say:
Creative, funny, and engaging – this book presents a unique look at the dynamics of bullying. With a diverse cast of characters, the book illustrates that bullying affects everyone – and that the students who are bullying can change their behavior and make their school a more positive place.
— PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center

So after gathering initial feedback, the version that I have now is EXACTLY the way that I want it.

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