Author draws on experience for children's book about bullying
DICKINSON, N.D. -- It's been said that everything you need to know -- respect, compassion, how to treat others -- you learned in kindergarten.
But former Dickinson resident Crystallee Vaagen provides reminders in her first-ever children's book, "Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero."
Vaagen's work is a 20-page book geared toward children ages 7 to 11 and draws on her experiences of being bullied during childhood, including time she spent as a student at Roosevelt Elementary in Dickinson.
"I thought this was a good age group because it gets to them ahead of time, before they enter high school or junior high, although bullying can occur at any age," said Vaagen, who now lives in Fargo. "Bullying is a more prevalent issue nowadays, and having been bullied as a kid myself, I wanted kids who are bullied to understand that they have power too. So I wrote this as advice for the bullied, urging them to speak up and hopefully let those who are bullied know that they have a voice."
It's a message Vaagen delivers to her readers right off the bat in the book's dedication, which reads, "Dedicated to all those who have been bullied, picked on, degraded, ignored or snubbed. You hold the power."
"The book has met my expectations and above by teaching a moral lesson that I wanted to show more of an understanding of both sides," she said. "That's why I gave Robbie a voice at the end finally. I purposely went most of the book without giving her a voice because people who are bullied don't usually feel they have one.
"That's also why I gave her the last name Zero, because you feel inferior and down when you're picked on, but zero is actually a powerful and positive number, which is shown in the story when Robbie realizes that she has the power to stand up and say something. Basically, good moral story that shows that kids do hold the power to change lives."
Born in Dickinson, Vaagen, 40, published her first book on Amazon.com and said reviews have been positive so far, giving her ideas for more books and maybe even a series featuring Robbie Zero.
"I'm just glad to finally have it in the hands of the public," she said. "I think there needs to be more books out there that are a positive influence on kids, giving them a self-esteem booster."
Using both personal experiences and things she's seen firsthand, Vaagen, who has been writing since age 15 but had never published any of her works, began writing down ideas and composing at least a sentence a day.
"It seemed to almost create itself on its own," she said. "It took about four months to finish and I did it without help, except from my illustrator, Mike Henderson. Besides him, I didn't really tell anyone what I was doing because I didn't want to be influenced by people telling me to go this way or that way with the story. I wanted it to be 100 percent mine."
It wasn't until Robbie Zero's story was on the page as Vaagen imagined it that she finally let others in on her work, editing five or six times before the final publication.
"I wrote the book simply and even incorporated my own experience, like on Page 9 when Robbie takes an exit out of school to avoid meeting up with a bully," she said. "I had that experience at Roosevelt Elementary growing up. I had kids in my class who would say they were going to beat me up after class, so I would take different exits out of school to avoid them."
Looking back at her own experience with bullies, Vaagen said she should have handled her situation by seeking help.
"I was a very shy and quiet kid. I didn't tell anybody, not my mom or my friends," she said. "I thought it was my problem and I'll take care of it myself, but I know now that was not the best way to handle it. I had the power to change things."