With divisive rhetoric lingering post-election, it’s no secret that bullying continues beyond the schoolyard. Still, it might take an innocuous mediator like a long-eared wiener dog for us to do something about it.
“Bullying doesn’t discriminate,” says Hendersonville’s Mia Augustine, mother of 16-year-old Faith Augustine. “It doesn’t matter your age, size, or location.”
Just this winter, Faith self-published her own commentary on bullying. Her illustrated chapter book Doxie Stands Tall follows a sweetly clumsy main character — based on her beloved real-life dachshund, Zoey — whose pint-sized stature keeps her from running with the big dogs.
At the park, the pup is treated like she’s less than the other canines. Indigo the miniature pinscher towers over Doxie, throwing out nasty names like “Chicken” and “Short-Fry.” The antagonist’s dominance is relayed more literally in Faith’s drawings, one graphic showing Indigo, colored an offbeat blue, grimacing at the petite Doxie. Tensions mount when Indigo and Bailey, a New Jersey-born beagle, challenge Doxie to race their leader, Sugar. Despite her sweet name, Sugar is made out to be a doggy juggernaut — a growling, drooling menace.
In the end, the resolution is wholesome, splashed with dramatic irony, and not to be spoiled. (Here’s a hint: There’s no true winner in the race.) The book has garnered enthusiastic reviews: Laura Reis Mayer, a literacy coach and author with Penguin Books Teacher Guides, calls Doxie “an insightful, affirming tale of character and perseverance … a fresh look at timely themes.” (Last month, Faith led her first anti-bullying Q&A at a local charter school, and she’ll appear at a young writers’ workshop at the Henderson County Public Library in the summer.)
Though written for children six and up, the plot does reflect an adult, dog-eat-dog world. Besides a budding romance between Miss, Doxie’s owner, and her guy friend Robert, there’s harrowing realism. Faith wrote the six chapters in a dark place, says Mia. She doesn’t want to reveal much about her daughter’s own experience with bullying, though she does disclose that Faith isolated herself because of what was happening to her.
“She acted like we weren’t even there,” says Mia. “Like she wasn’t even there.”
In return, the book puts a digestible spin on mature issues like physical abuse and what happens when bystanders sit idly by. It’s subtle, however. In one frame, a squirrel onlooker lingers in the background while Doxie murmurs the refrain: “I’ll just wag it off.”
But things only get worse when mistreatment is ignored, says Faith. Unlike most anti-bullying materials, Doxie Stands Tall calls for civil confrontation, but it takes feline intervention for the hound to realize that.
“There’s always that one voice that helps you through the rough stuff,” says Faith. In the book, that voice becomes Boris, a cantankerous tomcat who softens when he encourages Doxie to demand better treatment. Off the page, the author hopes that voice can be hers.
She recently immersed herself again in what she calls her “first passion” — theater. Faith knows that being rejected “over and over again” is a natural part of the acting life, and she notes that while theater offers many positives, “you are eventually going to get a full rundown on your flaws.” However, almost immediately after publishing Doxie Stands Tall, she says she felt “a whole lot brighter” — and decided to audition for a coveted role in Blue Ridge Community College’s spring production of Sense and Sensibility.
“When the cast list was posted, I was shocked and beyond thrilled to see my name next to [the character] Marianne Dashwood,” says Faith. “To think I almost walked away from my passion by letting some negative experiences overshadow my dreams …”
Doxie Stands Tall can be purchased on Amazon for $12. Faith Augustine is also available for readings, preferably in an elementary-school or library setting. To schedule an event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.