Exclusive Interview with the Creators of the Weird Series

This week I am thrilled to be taking part in the official blog tour for the Weird series, written by Erin Frankel and illustrated by Paula Heaphy. The Weird series tells a story of ongoing bullying from three different viewpoints: the target, the bystander, and the child doing the bullying. It consists of three books, Weird, Dare, and Tough. Click here to read my full review of the Weird series.

Weird Series Blog Tour

What inspired you to write this story?

FrankelErin: The inspiration for the series started with Weird, which I wrote when my three daughters were all elementary school-aged. I was disheartened by some of the behavior that was going on at school, and seeing the effects that bullying can have on children and their families firsthand. It saddened me to think that kids who were just trying to be themselves at school were perceived as being weird. How many kids, I wondered, try to change the things that make them special in hopes that bullying will stop? And what does it feel like when those changes do not lead to a change in the bullying? It was out of these concerns and conversations with my daughters, that colorful polka-dotted Luisa, the main character from Weird, was born. It’s strange, Luisa realizes, I keep changing what I do, but she doesn’t change at all. She still says I’m Weird! I wanted to find a way to help Luisa stay true to herself even in the face of bullying. My daughters and I discussed what works and doesn’t work to stop bullying. One comment really stayed with me: “The only thing that works is when you act like you don’t care.” I knew from personal experience that acting confident could lead to real confidence, and that this could be empowering to a child like Luisa who was involved in bullying. The more I act like I don’t care what she says, the more I really don’t care.  And the more she thinks I don’t care, the more she leaves me alone. The story was well on its way.

After writing Weird, illustrated by my longtime friend Paula Heaphy, we began a wonderful creative journey with a fantastic team at Free Spirit Publishing. We created Dare and Tough to explore Luisa’s story from the perspectives of the bystander and the child doing the bullying. I knew that Luisa couldn’t get back to being herself all on her own. She would need support from bystanders like Jayla in Dare. I wanted to show Jayla’s own struggles and the impact that her decisions have on herself and others. And Sam, the child doing the bullying, would need support in order to understand not only Luisa’s suffering, but her own struggles as well. As the stories developed, a lot of unanswered questions were revealed and answered by the characters. For example, if Luisa could act confident, could a bystander, such as Jayla, act brave? And could a child involved in bullying, such as Sam, act kind? Could everyone get back to being themselves and respect each other for who they are? The answer, I discovered was, YES! Luisa, Jayla and Sam inspired me with their choices.

The characters and situations are so authentic. Did you draw on personal experience?

Erin: Growing up, I was the target of bullying and also a witness to bullying.  At the time, I armed myself with positive thoughts as a way of coping with the bullying. I had a poster hanging on my wall that read, I am a smart, beautiful, intelligent girl.  I was fortunate enough to have friends who supported me when I was being bullied and this helped me get through it. I also witnessed an extreme case of bullying in which a young girl was outcast from the entire grade at recess. Kids spoke of her having ‘germs’ and ran the other way when she was around. I stood by for days and didn’t do anything about the bullying.  I had a knot in my stomach and felt that I would be ill when it came time for recess. One day, a friend and I sat down with the girl and made sure that we were seen by others. I told her not to worry about what everyone else was saying – that it wasn’t true.  I’ll never forget her smile, nor will I forget the glares and comments I got from other kids as we lined up to go in from recess that day. But what I remember most is that I felt strong in who I was and proud of what I had done. And that’s what I want kids to know and experience. Doing the right thing feels good. I have to be honest, I did worry about how I would write the perspective of Sam, the child doing the bullying, but I came to discover that I knew her story too. I was a sensitive child and I could feel what others were feeling – even the person bullying me.  My goal in Tough was to help someone like Sam feel empathy for others and in order to do so, I needed to first feel empathy for her. I wish that the boy who bullied me had had someone to care about him and help him make better choices. When it comes to bullying, our stories are all connected and I hope that is what shines through in the Weird series.

What was the inspiration behind the unique style of illustrations?

HeaphyPaula: I think the style naturally evolved over time. When I started the process, I had no idea what I was doing. I drew a little girl hundreds of times until Luisa appeared wearing polka dot boots and sprinkled with freckles. I liked how the black line work resembled a coloring book, so I ran with it. I wanted the children to imagine themselves and their friends in whatever colors they wanted. Children involved in bullying come in all shades. So I left it mainly black and white and played with color and pattern to show the emotional journey of the main characters. As Luisa loses her confidence in Weird, her vibrant color and polka dots fade away. As her confidence returns, her color and polka dots sweep back in. In Dare, Jayla loses her color and stars when she is afraid to stand up to Sam, but they return as her courage builds. And in Tough, hearts begin to peek out from under Sam’s hoodie as she becomes kinder and stops picking on others.

How did you create the illustrations?

Paula: With lots of love, a bazillion cups of coffee, and many late nights! I drew everything dozens of times in pencil, then traced over the sketches on my light box with Micron pens. I scanned the drawings into Photoshop and worked with them in layers so that I could move the characters and elements around easily. Many changes happened during the process of making the books, so everything needed to float independently. To keep with the coloring book idea, I used Crayola crayons for the color. It was a fun way to balance out the stress of the deadlines as the coloring made me feel like a kid again. The hand lettered words throughout the books were drawn by Erin’s daughter, Kelsey. I turned her words into repeating patterns for the backgrounds to give them an authentic feel. There are a few textile design patterns scattered throughout that I created digitally, but mainly everything was drawn by hand so that the emotion could shine through.

Weird! Dare! Tough_PB

I want to say a HUGE thank you to Erin Frankel and Paula Heaphy for taking the time to chat with me. To learn more about the Weird series, click here.

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