By Sue Minton
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Being bullied is something John Avera never experienced, but unfortunately this problem affects millions of children.
For several years the Laurel County teacher had thoughts about writing a book about the one thing that causes thousands of students to wake up every day afraid to go to school.
“I have seen students being bullied. Bullying is a very big topic in our schools today. But the schools I work at do a great job on keeping it at bay. Bullying can turn something that should be fun, like recess, into a nightmare for students.”
“I decided that I didn’t need to sit around anymore, I just needed to write the book — thus “Ella Minnow Peed” was created.”
“For a long time I had the characters in mind but never sat down to write. So, I guess one could say the brainstorming phase was about 10 years before I finally began to write the story. It went fairly quick, I just compared it to a regular school day and what someone like Ella might endure. It took about two weeks to write it ‘freehand’ and then to put it on the computer for the first draft took about two more days. All in all, after the brainstorming phase, it was about three months from the first written word to publishing and printing.”
The children’s book is about a fish that is bullied at school. Ella Minnow is a tiny fish that is starting her first day at the Lake Cumberland Fish School. She is very worried about being so small in such a large school. Ella is bullied all day until she goes to music class. There she teaches children that everyone is special in their own way and that each person has their own talents.
“Ella surprises everyone in music class. So much so they start to see her for what she really is — a talented little fish. Can’t say much more, I want children (and parents) to read the book.”
Avera, who has been a music teacher for 13 years, presently teaching at Cold Hill and Sublimity Elementary schools, got the idea for the main character from his music classes.
“The idea for ‘Ella’ was chosen because of the way we sing and learn the ABC’s,” he said. “When we get to LMNOP we pretty much say her name. The other characters are fish that are native to our area and Lake Cumberland.”
Some of the characters were named after individuals that Avera knows and respects.
“Mr. C (Catfish)) is sort of named after my former high school band director Mr. C. (Dan Carpenter). He really meant a lot to me in my musical career. Plus, I also go by my last initial in school, Mr. A.”
Avera hopes that once children read the book they will learn to treat others like they want to be treated and if they have a talent, they need to develop it to its full potential.
“I want parents, students and teachers alike to use the bully proof program in the back of the book to help children know what to do if they are being bullied. All across America, bullying is an epidemic in our schools, workplace and many other places. I wrote the story to teach children that everyone is special.”
Avera’s family, son Leighton and wife Katie were very supportive and encouraged him to write the book.
Leighton, a student at South Laurel Middle School, gave his dad many suggestions for the book.
“When I got to the gym part, he said ‘make them play dodgeball.’ I told him that fish didn’t play dodgeball. He reminded me that fish didn’t play anything, they were fish. I took that suggestion and make it into a hooks course (like a rope course) where you have to avoid all of the hooks.”
“Currently, Leighton doesn’t say much about the book, he’s just excited about the publicity,” Avera added.
Avera, who is originally from Somerset, is also the Worship and Student Pastor at Hart Baptist Church.
He has not seen any members of his youth group being bullied or bullying. “But, I have heard many stories about what my kids endure and what they have seen others endure,” he said. “There have been kids that were made fun of because of their looks, their faith, and what others thought was true about them.”
“Our youth group is called ‘The REV.’ We are a student ministry for sixth through 12th grade students. We welcome anyone in that age range to join us on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the lounge and game room. REV stands for “Renewing lives, Equipping students, and Vocalizing the gospel.”
Avera is also a black belt in Taekwon-Do and attends classes at East/West Martial Arts Academy in London. The bully proof program in ‘Ella Minnow Peed’ is the same one that is taught at the karate academy.
Besides being an author, music teacher and youth pastor, Avera also plays in a worship band.
“Circle Seven is our name and the members are myself (lead singer and keyboard); Jason Cheek (lead guitar); Jon Burmett (bass); Colin Arnold (guitar) and Josh Hammons (drums). We have been together for seven years and have played all-over southern Kentucky, leading worship at many youth and church events, as-well-as being the worship leaders at the Laurel River Baptist Camp for the last six years. We don’t play much anymore due to the economy.”
‘Ella Minnow Peed’ was released on Avera’s 38th birthday, Jan. 3, 2014, and a book signing is scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15 at Brookhaven Bookstore.
“This is my first published book and right now I haven’t given much thought about writing another one. Katie and I are adopting a child from the Philippines and I figured we could use the proceeds from this book to help with the cost of the adoption.”
“Ella Minnow Peed” is available at johndavera.com, Trafford.com, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and just this week Avera received word that Lifeway will be picking up the book. There is also a Facebook page available at — www.facebook.com/ellaminnowpeed.