Article by Lanita Goins
Dr. Mike Perko’s 20 years researching kids’ decisions and how those decisions impact their health — coupled with his seven years of experience as a dad reading nighttime stories — were the inspiration for a new series of children’s books.
Perko, an associate professor in the Department of Public Health Education, is the author of “Cornered!”, a story about Sheldon the turtle whose four-cornered shell garners unwanted attention from schoolyard bullies — until his difference becomes a life-saving asset. Sheldon is also the star of “Sheldon’s Adventure,” which was co-authored by Perko and childhood friend, illustrator Nick Nebelsky.
Perko will read from his children’s books during an event Monday, April 1, at UNCG’s Alumni House. The 4 p.m. event is open to the community at no charge; children are welcome.
Sheldon’s story “blends an anti-bullying message with a celebration of our differences,” Perko said. “The literature says that anybody can get bullied. There’s no recipe. But kids who have differences — they wear glasses, they’re short, they’re overweight — might be more of a target for bullies. Sheldon, with his square shell, is a target. The message of our Sheldon stories are to celebrate our differences. It’s okay and wonderful to be different!”
Perko is a widely-quoted expert in the use of sports performance products among young athletes, research that has given him insight into what drives children and adolescents’ behavior choices.
“What is it that makes kids decide to do things? Kids want to feel something — stronger, faster, even what they perceive as normal. Sheldon wanted to look and feel like the other turtles,” he said.
“It’s all within; the self feeds the ideas of who we are. Part of what I want to do is create the message that you’re okay being who you are. Loving yourself and your gifts are the key. We don’t want you to be any different than who you are right now. “
The books were written with elementary-age youngsters in mind, Perko said, and inspired by the lessons he aims to teach his own children, ages 6 and 7. “Be nice, be a friend, don’t pick on people, don’t be a bully. You don’t have to reach very far to find storylines common to all of us,” he said. “In Sheldon, we feel we have a cute, sweet character that allows us to tell stories that have a good, positive message.”
A third book featuring Sheldon and his friends is scheduled for release this summer. “Cornered!” and “Sheldon’s Adventures” are also available as interactive apps in Apple’s iTunes store and online at Barnes and Noble.
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