Ever since reading the delightful and insightful Fat Boy Chronicles by Diane Lang and Michael Buchanan,  I can’t stop thinking about it and why it hits home for me.  The main character, Jimmy Winterpock is an overweight boy who lets us into his high school life through journal entries, an assignment given to his entire class by an enlightened teacher.  The teacher tells them that if they write something they don’t want her to read, then to fold the page over and she won’t read it.   Of course, those are the journal entries that draw you in and make you remember every nuance of high school life. (At one point, I felt like I was in gym class again right along with Jimmy.)

Why do I think this is a great resource for kids, parents and teachers?  Although Jimmy is relentlessly teased about his weight (and everyone in the bullying prevention field knows that overweight kids are teased more), you get to know who he is, how his family works, overcoming humiliation, the turmoil that some of the kids with less visible imperfections experience, and the sometimes funny and often poignant journey of a teenager.

I love Jimmy Winterpock…and I suspect if you read the book and/or watch the movie (now available on DVD and at stores like Walmart and through Net Flix) you’ll love him, too.  If you’re a teacher, curriculum is available and there are at least a dozen lessons hidden in the storyline.  Of course, it’s about bullying but it’s also about parenting styles, the value of a good teacher, character, silent pain, the need for friendship and connection, sibling relationships, love, perspective, motivation, humor and the bravery of getting through four of the most confusing times in a person’s life — high school.

When I spoke to co-author Michael Buchanan, he told me that Fat Boy Chronicles is based on a true story.  I wasn’t surprised.  Michael was kind enough to answer these questions:

1.)  Why do you think the Fat Boy Chronicles resonate so much for kids AND adults?

Even though the main character is an overweight boy, Diane and I wanted to point out that everyone has something that weighs on their soul. And regardless of how popular you are, or may have been, in school, there are those dark days in which you felt alone. We all understand that. With the response we have received, it seems that everyone sees themselves in the story. We’ve had people in their 70s tell us about events in their childhood that left a permanent scar on their heart, and kids will come up after a school talk to tearfully tell us how they are treated. Just like Atticus Finch said, “You never really know a man until you walk around in his shoes for a day.” To see the world through the eyes of Jimmy helps others understand how their actions, or lack thereof, can affect a life forever. It causes reflection on the moments when we were the victim, bystander or bully.
2.)  What do you want the book and the film to accomplish?
We want the book and movie to continue to create empathy for those feeling left out of the world. Both versions have been out long enough for us to have received many emails and comments about how the book and/or movie have changed behavior. Whether that change is to be healthier, speak up for someone who is a victim or stop being a bully, we have seen the impact Jimmy Winterpock makes on people, young and old. For those who are the bystander: heroes can be any age—a simple act of kindness today can mean more than you could ever imagine, perhaps for the rest of their life.

And, most importantly, we want anyone who reads or watches the story to know that they are not alone, that tomorrow can be better, and that they, just like Jimmy, should never give up hope.

My best friend in high school — Kevin Bittles — was a lot like Jimmy. Kevin was a bit chunky, a little shy, but in his own way, the most mature, good-natured person I ever met.  He saved me from the feeling of being an outsider.  Underneath it all, he was comfortable with being himself.  He allowed me to be light-hearted by being 100% genuine in his friendship.  Kevin didn’t make it to his 18th birthday (unfortunately, he lost his life in a car accident during a cross country trip) but Fat Boy Chronicles gave me comfort and made me smile because the world needs more Jimmys and more Kevins.

Thank you Diane and Michael for letting us get to know Jimmy and reminding us about the power of empathy.