With a master’s degree in education, Maria Shamkalian knows that affecting change begins with early childhood education.
Bullying is a problem in schools nationwide, with 49% of children between grades 4 to 12 reporting being bullied by others at least once in the past month.
Shamkalian had not just seen her students suffering from bullying but she had experienced bullying herself as a child when she and her family had recently moved to the United States. “I had short curly hair and big glasses, I didn’t speak English, and I looked like a boy. These things made me stand out, and I was a victim of bullying because of it.”
By teaching the values of kindness from a young age, Shamkalian explains, we can change these statistics. “If you teach young children important lessons about kindness and accepting others, they are equipped with these skills for the rest of their lives. They are like sponges at this age and they can learn quickly about the beauty of diversity: to accept others and to accept themselves as they are.”
Teaching these values runs back generations in Maria’s family. In Russia, her grandmother worked with children with exceptionalities, who were often ostracized because of their differences. Shamkalian herself also experienced bullying in her childhood, and although she went on to model and act, she realized that true beauty was not in changing herself but in being herself.
This is central to the message she imparts in her new book for children, “Sunny the Yellow Bunny”. The main character’s fur is different from all the other bunnies, but when Sunny asks his mom to dye his fur white, she refuses, teaching him to take pride in his differences.
“You don’t have to fit in by looking like everyone else,” adds the author. “You benefit the community because of your individuality. We are all pieces of the big, universal puzzle.”
Of the book, Shamkalian adds, “I hope that my readers understand that we are all citizens of the world. We have different colors, cultures, and religions; there are so many ways in which we are different, but we all have dreams and hopes. We all want to be loved and have friends and a strong community. There is so much more that we have in common than what makes us different.”
The author plans to use her book as a tool to help make schools a kinder place, where children can be excited to learn from peers who are different from themselves.
Publisher Lisa M. Umina adds, “This is a beautiful book—from the illustrations to the powerful message for children, who will relate to Sunny and have fun learning about love, kindness, and acceptance: crucial values for us to instill in children today.”
For more information about Maria Shamkalian visit www.halopublishing.com. “Sunny the Yellow Bunny” is now available at Halo Publishing International, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and Books a Million in Hardcover for $20.95, in Paperback for $12.95, and as an e-Book for $6.99.