Growing up, Turlock native John Paul Padilla was teased incessantly.
Padilla wasn't a bad kid, just an easy target. His big ears were a constant point of humor for his fellow students.
“They used to call me 'dumbo,'” Padilla said.
In 2008 Padilla decided to channel the experience of being bullied into an illustrated children's novel called “Johnny Big-Ears, The Feel-Good Friend.” That novel talked to children about how bullying feels, and how kids should be proud of who they are.
This year Padilla is back with a sequel, aimed at the problems girls face: “Johnny Big-Ears Meets his New Neighbor, Suzy”
“Johnny Big-Ears was really for everyone, but boys seemed to connect with it more,” Padilla said. “I wanted to write something specific for little girls this time.”
Padilla spoke with teachers, school therapists, and other child experts to get a better insight on bullying from a girl's perspective. The biggest bullying issue girls face, bar none, is weight-related teasing, Padilla said.
“The number one thing they said (was) that little girls get teased for is being overweight,” Padilla said. “Girls are very concerned about their weight, even at a young age.”
The book follows Suzy Chunkles, an overweight girl who is new in town. Suzy was teased at her last school, and is afraid it will happen again at her new school.
The book is intended to help children realize what bullying is and why it is hurtful, Padilla said. And it's also intended to help children learn to embrace their differences.
“The biggest thing I want kids to know is that it's okay to be yourself,” Padilla said.
In honor of Anti-Bullying Awareness Month, Padilla will hold two local book-signing events this weekend. Both will feature a short presentation about bullying, snacks, a coloring contest for children, and the life-size Johnny Big-Ears and Suzy Chunkles mascots.
Padilla will hold a signing event for “Johnny Big-Ears Meets his New Neighbor, Suzy” from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Turlock's Lightly Used Books, 141 N. Center St. A second event will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Saint Stanislaus Parish School, 1416 Maze Blvd, Modesto.