Alley Oops
Written by Janice Levy
Illustrated by Cynthia Decker
An interview with Alley Oops author
Janice Levy in the Voice
, Maine Jewish
Community Alliance, by Elizabeth Margolis-
Pineo

1. Is Alley Oops a true story?
Alley Oops is not based on childhood
experience nor on anyone I know or knew
personally. When I write, I choose an emotional
experience everyone can relate to and then I use
my imagination to fictionalize it.
As a former teacher, I taught English as a
Second Language and Spanish. I witnessed the
bullying of youths because they were from
foreign countries, who stood out from the
mainstream because of their native dress and
accents.

2. How does being Jewish inform your work?
Being Jewish is the foundation of who I am. I
am strongly aware and proud [of being a Jew]
— but it has nothing to do with the writing of
the book. I travel all over the world and am
very conscious of my Jewishness, especially
when I am in the minority. It’s always fun to
meet Jews in places like Costa Rica, Guatemala
and Peru, for example.

3. Bullying is a hot topic. What’s been the
reaction to Alley Oops?
When I do book signings, everyone has a bully
story for me. Parents, grandparents,
caregivers...people can’t remember what color
socks they put on this morning, but they can
recall a former tormenter in great detail, down
to nose hair, twitchy eyebrows, and spit-shiny
shoes; the demented demon’s cackle still
echoes in their ears.
“Were you ever bullied?” I ask.
The children shiver, grit their teeth, cross their
eyes. They pound their fists, wipe away tears; I
sense healing in the retelling.

4. When you write, do you rely on personal
experiences?
It’s more challenging to keep “me” out of my
books. Bullies come in more flavors than jelly
beans. They can physically threaten, verbally
maim or emotionally threaten. Some are in your
face; some attack from behind. Others have
‘posses’ do the dirty work. In Alley Oops, the
bully tells the story. Readers learn what’s
behind bullying, what’s ‘in it’ for the bad guy.

5. Why is the book selling so well? Is it
because it resonates with adults as well as
with children?
A bully can be a three-piece suit bedecked in
Prada, whiffing of something French, with a
voice snapping like crisp bills: Co-workers
shield their eyes from the lashings. It’s the
‘Passion of the Workplace.’
A grandmother told me she’s routinely bullied
by doctors because she asks too many
questions, a mom whispered her hairdresser
publically humiliates her, pointing out her
protruding ears and double chin. A teacher
confided tales of spousal intimidation; her
husband demands she get breast implants.
But most importantly, people want to protect
their children. Alley Oops is about hurt and
anger, empathy and hope, resilience and
ingenuity. It’s about actions and consequences.
Readers enjoy that “alley oops!” moment when
a child experiences the empowerment and self-
esteem that come from doing the right thing.

6. What’s your favorite part of the book?
J.J. Jax torments an overweight boy, calling
him Pig-Pen and Porky. Now the boy is afraid
to go to school. When Mr. Jax finds out, he
tells J.J. a story about when he was a bully, and
how sorry he feels now. He explains about the
two dogs inside us, one bad and one good, that
fight all the time. “Which dog wins?” J.J. asks.
“The one you feed the most,” Mr. Jax answers.
Children have the potential to make the world a
happy, loving place. They need to be nurtured
and respected, guided and praised. I autograph
my books with the message, ‘Live strong!” •
“Children have the potential to make the world a
happy, loving place. They need to be nurtured
and respected, guided and praised. I autograph
my books with the message, ‘Live strong!’ ”  
A talk with Janice Levy about some of the
DEEPER THEMES in her book, Alley Oops

Q: Eight pages of this 32-page book are devoted to Mr. Jax’s past as
a bully and his encounter with his former victim, “Frog Face,” now a
police officer. Why did you spend so much time telling this section?

A: The emphasis of Alley Oops is not on Mr. Jax or the police officer,
"Frog Face." The story Mr. Jax tells is only the catalyst; he is trying to
relate to his son by confiding his own experience. This is what parents do
all the time. Children feel their parents are "dinosaurs;" hopelessly
backward and "out-of-it." Children feel their parents were never children
and never experienced the strong emotions and conflicts children
encounter on a daily basis. Parents, on the other hand, constantly try to
relate to their children, to show them they can relate because they have
been in the same situations; they, too, know what it's like to feel conflicted
and distraught. Therefore, Mr. Jax looks for a way to relate to his son's
bullying. Rather than lecture or punish, he seeks to reassure his son that he
knows how the bully - as well as the child being bullied - feel. But Mr. Jax
does not solve the bullying problem for the boys. The book is about
empowerment; kids taking charge of a situation and growing from the
experience. A seed can be planted by adults; children follow-through.

Q: “Frog Face” tells Mr. Jax, “I arrest people like you”, as if Mr.
Jax is a criminal. Doesn’t “Frog Face” seem a bit scary for a police
officer?

A: Mr. Jax was not a criminal. But, his actions of bullying were "criminal."
It's obvious from the illustrations that there is no criminal activity going on
- there is no menace, no weapons, no handcuffs... Children reading the
book don't fear the police officer and every child I've shown the book to
told me, "Of course, Mr. Jax is not going to be arrested." Perhaps in our
world of terrorist attacks, adults are overly sensitive to police activity--
however, none of the children expressed any doubt or insecurity to me.

Q: But why didn’t “Frog Face” forgive Mr. Jax? Wouldn’t that have
been an important lesson to share?  

A: The reality is that people DO hold onto grudges and most people DO
NOT forgive their accuser. It is rare - like the Pope - to forgive the
shooter. The average child and adult do not turn the other cheek and shake
hands. And, when adults insist that kids who have been fighting "shake
hands and be friends," this is done only to please the adult. I've witnessed
numerous instances of bullying and playground fighting as a teacher: the
kids shook hands and "made up" only to please the teacher/adult/parent
involved. However, once the kids were out of sight of the adults, nothing
was resolved. There was no patching up; no friendship.

It is unfortunate, but people do hold grudges and this is exactly what Mr.
Jax was trying to show his son. Once you have done something wrong,
quite often it cannot be corrected.

Q: Did Mr. Jax only feel guilty now, because “Frog Face” refused his
apology and likened him to a criminal?

A: I don't believe Mr. Jax would have felt better even if he had been
"pardoned." Mr. Jax was not a superficial person and hence, he would
have known down deep that he was still wrong and that the pardoning was
"empty." Mr. Jax was not afraid he would be arrested. He knew he had
acted badly as a child, and he felt guilty, still, as an adult. He had just
discovered that his son was acting badly and did not want J.J. to feel the
same sense of guilt when he grew up.

Q: Why did you have “Frog Face” become a police officer when he
grew up?

A: A police officer was used to show that kids who have been bullied are
not "losers." A police officer is a respected person, a leader, someone to be
looked up to. I wanted to show a positive adult role model to kids who are
victimized. Many children who read the book told me they thought it was
"cool" that the victim, "Frog Face," became a police officer. In fact, one
child who is bullied now in school told me he, too, would like to be a
police officer when he grew up - not to arrest and attack the kids who
bullied him - but because he would like to be "on the right side of things,
as a person who did good things in his life," even after being pushed
around as a kid.

Q: J.J.’s transformation from bully to buddy at the end of the book
seems quite sudden. Isn’t that unrealistic?

A: As far as the transformation of J.J. being "too sudden," it had to come
around by the end of the book so there would be closure. A picture book
is not a chapter book where a story line can be developed over numerous
pages. Plus, kids are funny: adults can obsess over fights and bullying, but
kids can resolve issues in a snap of time. Sometimes, it just takes a private
conversation between the kids. It's not a "deep" thing. It's not a
"transformation." It's a shifting of gears, a new mind-set. I've seen this
happen numerous times.

On a personal level, when a kid was bullying my son, I simply invited the
bully to a baseball game with my family. By the time the first pitch was
thrown, the two boys were buddies - simply because they found they both
liked the second baseman the best and knew the guy's records by heart;
they were both "historians" of baseball. In other words, "transformations"
do take place quickly.  
Read Janice Levy's interview on
Kids Care Clubs
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