“This is a message to kids all over the world, “Feel good about yourself and try to overlook the negative remarks of your peers.” —Darlington Johnson
*Publish as soon as possible, please Children today have a lot to contend with. Social media is filled with horrifying first-account stories of the effects bullying has had on children of all ages and many of these stories have ended badly.
And many make the mistake of thinking this sort of behavior only happens to teens. But in fact, bullies and bullying can begin as early as elementary school with identifying behaviors like “Little Johnny” not wanting to share his toys; and “Ashley” pushing her much smaller classmate down on the playground.
These behaviors are often overlooked, just because the children are considered young and innocent. But experts say such behaviors can easily carry on into adulthood, and often times, parents may encourage it without even realizing, simply by ignoring it.
Eighteen (soon to be 19) year old college sophomore Darlington Johnson knows all too well about the harmful effects of bullying. As a child and as a teen she was bullied; she saw her sister being bullied, and learned that even her mother was bullied as a child. These are the experiences that prompted her to write her first book.
Now, in a three-book series based on the experiences of a ladybug named “Layla,” who only wants to be liked for being herself, Johnson aims to encourage children to love themselves, embrace their differences, and to know that honesty is always better than telling a fib.
In her first book, “Layla the Ladybug: Bullying,” Layla is being bullied by the other ladybugs just because she looks different.
The colorful picture book opens showing Layla standing amidst a beautiful yellow sun, a mushroom plant and a sun flower. But she looks sad as she introduces herself to young readers.
“Hi, I’m Layla and I am a ladybug. I do not look like other ladybugs. And that makes me sad.”
We later see Layla looking even sadder as she stands, slumped over in shame, as the other ladybugs tease her saying things like.
“Ha! Ha! Ha! You’re weird.”
Layla tries hard to fit in at one point. But her unsuccessful attempt backfires and she learns through trial and error, and the support of her loving mother, how to love herself in the end.
Johnson was a student at Frisco Independent School District’s Scoggins Middle School grappling with what topic she would write about for an assigned essay, when the idea to use the topic of “bullying” first surfaced.
“It started off as a writing project in 6th grade and from there we had to write a story about anything. During the time I was bullied as a child and I thought it would be a good book to reach out to other children about bullying and how you shouldn’t change yourself. You should be happy with the way you are. And from there I wrote and turned it in and got a good grade on it.”
Targeted to ages 4 through 9, “Layla” – the ladybug protagonist in the series, was chosen because of the writer’s love of the little bugs. She goes through a number of changes as she tries to “fit in” with the others. But finally, through her failed attempts to be someone other than herself, Layla learns the importance of staying true to who she is, and in the end, those who were bullying her end up respecting her.
In Johnson’s second book, “Layla the Ladybug: Honesty” the little bug becomes afraid when she does something her mother had warned her not to do. In this case: eating the yummy pie they had made to welcome their new neighbor to the community. When Layla’s mother leaves, the little bug can’t resist and ignores the warning. Upon her mother’s return, Layla is asked what happened to the pie and instead of telling the truth, the little ladybug creates an elaborate lie.
My mother walked into the kitchen and asked me to bring her the blueberry pie. I told my mother that a large eagle had come into the kitchen and flown away with the pie. I tried to stop the eagle, but it was fast and strong. My mother looked at me with a very sad face. She asked me, “why are there blueberries all over the front of your belly?” “I told my mother another fib and said I have no idea.”
“The thing that encouraged me to write the second book is because I feel it’s just easier for a lot of children, people in general really, to tell a lie than tell the truth. And I feel that it’s something that, if you tell the truth you’ll feel a lot better about yourself than if you tell a fib. And you’ll work twice as hard to cover up that lie.”
Darlington’s mother and manager, Stephanie Dennis-Simpson, will join her daughter as co-author on the third and last book for a while in the Layla picture book series. The upcoming book, “Layla Used Her Wisdom, not Emotion,” has already been completed and will be available for sale at the end of January 2016.
Johnson, who is a fan of Dr. Seuss books, and the Junie B. Jones chapter books; in addition to her mother’s favorite children’s book writer, Eric Carle (“The Very Hungry Caterpillar”) talks about her future.
“I would love to continue writing children’s books. My career, after I get out of college, is to work with children,” says the author who now works at a child daycare. “I can use my books in my career,” says Johnson.
“I love the 3 and 4-year-old’s because they are so honest. They are so funny. I just love reading to that age group because they give me great feedback. Honest feedback. They don’t bite their tongue!”
Dennis-Simpson, who reads Darlington’s books to children at the daycare center she is employed with agrees.
“I read one of her books to the kids. They said, “We love ladybugs. There’s a lot of ladybugs in this school!” says Stephanie Dennis-Simpson.
Both writers dream of Layla the Ladybug being a cartoon on television one day.