Adrianna Romano, guidance counselor at the Nicholas Oresko School in Bayonne, knew the moment she read the “Casey and Bella” book on bullying that she had to bring the Hoboken-based author to speak with the kids.
It is a topic close to the heart of the school district and the state, since this year the state required districts to implement anti-bullying policies and districts around New Jersey began to seek creative ways to introduce this into the curriculum.
While Romano made regular visits to classes, joining teachers in talking about the various issues concerning bullying, she said she was always looking for another voice to support this effort.
Under state law, schools must include anti-bullying lessons in the curriculum. The schools’ guidance departments must also be deeply involved in the program.
Bayonne Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patricia McGeehan and the Board of Education this year introduced an anti-bullying campaign called “Let There Be Peace in Bayonne,” something designed to not only curb possible abuse of students by other students, but to empower victims of bullying and to encourage them to report these incidents.
“She brings her dogs with her and the kids listen.” – Adrianna Romano.
Romano said lessons on bullying usually teach kids what it means to be a victim of a bully, what it is to be a bully, and what it means to be a bystander.
She called them “the three Bs,” and tries to relate it to situations.
“I try to be proactive,” she said. “I would like to prevent the situation.”
But the attractiveness of having an author come in, she said, is that it provides a voice other than hers or the teachers’ to support some of the information that is being conveyed.
Author’s original goal: teaching
Jane Lovascio didn’t start out to become an author or an anti-bullying activist. She originally wanted to become a teacher. Graduating from Boston University, Lovascio moved to Hoboken looking for work as a teacher, but had to take work in sales.
Her career took a dramatic turn because of her dogs Casey, a Jack Russell Terrier, and Bella, a Teacup Yorkie.
She said she soon noticed certain characteristics about her dogs, like how the Jack Russell tended to protect the Teacup Yorkie. After some work with a rhyming dictionary, she managed to put together a story about their adventures in New York City.
In the first book, Casey and Bella meet a variety of amazing characters on the streets of New York and learn how to treat other people.
When her first book, “Casey and Bella Go to New York City,” was published, Lovascio said school kids were so taken by her novel that they began to suggest places where her fictional dogs should go in subsequent books.
This reaction from school kids gave her the idea to let kids help develop the story line.
“So many kids suggested so many places to take the dogs, I decided to make a contest of the next story,” she said.
Lovascio writes the story and the illustrations are by Aija Jasuna of Latvia.
Her next book dragged the doggy duo into the greedy world of a Hollywood agent, a character whose colorful fur turns black and white by the end of the tale.
In many ways, the stories are about growing up and the rules of behavior, a kind of morality tale about what to do or not do and how to behave. These stories are designed to impart “simple life lessons” Lovascio learned growing up, such as how to be kind to others.
These days Lovascio lives in West New York, but she is rapidly getting notoriety for the “Casey and Bella” book series, especially for the current volume, which takes on the issue of bullying.
“I was bullied for about seven months, but I was afraid to tell anyone,” she said.
Lovascio has been touring schools throughout Hudson County over the last few months. She visits schools frequently, sometimes as many as three schools per day, bringing Casey and Bella with her in an effort to get kids to stop bullying and be nicer to each other.
Perhaps because of the New Jersey requirements to teach anti-bullying in schools, Lovascio has gained even more attention. She has developed an entire anti-bullying Casey and Bella curriculum on DVD for elementary schools, and has free e-books of six of the books in her series.
Romano said Lovascio donated a complete set of her books to the Nicholas Oresko School library and agreed to come to Bayonne to talk to the students on March 13.
Lovascio is seeking new adventures through student writing contests. In her talk to the students at Nicholas Oresko School, she explained what it means to be an author and how, through her contest, the students might have a chance to become the co-author of one of her books.
Third through fifth graders can submit their story ideas each year from Sept. 1 through April 15. The winner’s story is published as the next Casey and Bella installment and the child author has his or her very own Barnes and Noble book-signing event for friends and family. Both Lovascio and the participating student receive book royalties based on sales.
The Barnes and Noble events not only allow children to experience the thrill of published authorship and a healthy boost of self confidence, but they receive an extra-special bonus on top of it: Lovascio brings Casey and Bella in the flesh to all of the bookstore events. She also takes the dogs with her to each of the top three winners’ schools.
“It’s all about building the kids’ self-esteem,” she said, “and the dogs make it real for them.”
Romano said it is important to keep an open dialogue with the children and parents so that they can talk about experiences at school.
By having authors like Lovascio come in, kids are more accepting of each other and of the lessons they are taught.
“She brings her dogs with her and the kids listen,” Romano said.