TFK interviewed Kathryn Otoshi, author and illustrator of the books One and Zero. This is what she had to say about her books and about working to stop bullying.
What is the main message that you hope kids will take away from One and Zero?
My book One is about acceptance, tolerance and differences, but I hope kids remember it's also about choice. The choice we all have to stand up, make a difference and count. Zero is about self-esteem and finding our own unique value in ourselves while appreciating what others can bring to the table.
One has been praised for being a powerful anti-bullying tool. What do you think makes the book most effective? Why do you think the picture book appeals to and resonates with readers of all ages?
I actually think it's because the main characters are simple blobs of color. Blue is a quiet color. Red is fiery and bold, but he's also a hothead who likes to pick on Blue. Instead of getting caught up in physical differences, we can get to the heart of the matter, which is how we actually feel about these different characters and personalities. One is also about our need to want to label others. For example, is Red a bad color? Is Blue a good color? In my story, the colors are neither good nor bad. It's about how we sometimes feel: angry, sad, lonely. Or sometimes happy and outgoing. The story is also about transformation. We all change at different times. Blue doesn't change as fast as the other colors do. Why? Because he's been picked on more. And Red? Well, truthfully, we don't know why Red is mad right now. He just is. Just like we might not know why someone is bullying another. But we do know Red is making poor choices. And it takes him even longer to change, because he's been angry for so long.
How often do you visit schools to present your book and lead anti-bullying workshops?
I do regular school visits throughout the country. One of the things I like to do is to perform skits with the kids when I visit. At the end of the workshop, we'll do a play for the audience. It's interactive. We get the kids engaged. But most of all, we have a lot of fun.
Do you have any other advice for kids?
Stretch and be open to change. It's not easy. Believe me, I know. But do your best to be open to new people and new cultures. Try not to judge anyone based on their outward appearance. Make it part of your own set of values to not make fun of others. And if you hear people saying bad things about another person, you can start by shrugging and simply saying, "I'm not going there." It's not easy to stand up for others, but after a while, it gets easier and easier. And then, one day, you realize it's no longer a stretch. You are that brave person. You've become who you wanted to be.