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Waterford - Fifty years ago, Kevin McMahon lived through the story "Manny McMoose and His Chubby Caboose."
Now, he brings his newly illustrated book and the ideas it teaches about bullying to local schools.
"It still hurts," McMahon, a Groton resident and semi-retired school psychologist, confessed one day last month at Great Neck School to about a dozen fifth-graders in teacher Jodi Ford's classroom.
McMahon, a local actor and former All-State football player at Fitch High School well known for performing as the Saxophone Santa at local venues around the holidays, said he was bullied as a kid because of his weight. Luckily, he found the strength to confront the bullies - with words, not fists - and the bullying stopped.
McMahon said one of his bullies, who kept calling him Fatso and Fat Boy, had been held back in school, and he pointed that out to him. The other had buck teeth, and McMahon reminded him of the fact.
McMahon confided after his school appearance that pointing out a bully's imperfections may seem harsh, but he teaches kids to be assertive without being violent. Sticking up for yourself works, he said.
"A lot of bullies get jealous and then they make fun of you," McMahon told Ford's pupils, who gathered around a screen that projected images from the book. "Bullies don't know why, but it makes them feel good."
The National Education Association estimates that more than 160,000 school-age children skip school every day because of bullying. The association's Nationwide Study of Bullying, published in 2011, found that bullying affected about 30 percent of U.S. school-age youth on a monthly basis.
Staff working with youths in urban middle schools were much more likely to report bullying as a frequent problem than those in other schooling venues, according to the report. But bullying can happen anywhere, McMahon said, and he emphasized that girls can be bullies as easily as boys.
"Cowardly females, sneaky and coy ... they email and text the ugliest rumors," reads part of McMahon's book, which is written in rhyming couplets. "They're jealous with envy of things girls possess, like beauty and boyfriends or even a dress."
In the 50-page Manny McMoose book, which McMahon self-published three years ago and reissued in September with full-color illustrations, the overweight hero with a chubby posterior gets teased by a bully to the point of depression. He is saved by a teacher who pairs him with disabled students, raising Manny's self-esteem to the point that he can stand up to the bully.
McMahon explained that bullying has three components: the bully, the victim and the bystander. The bystander is a particularly important part of the equation, he said, since intervention from others can often stop bullying in its tracks.
"If you are a bystander, please intervene; upstage the bully and alter the scene," reads part of the book.
"Bystanders give bullies the fuel," McMahon tells the Great Neck pupils. "Our prisons are filled with bullies who couldn't stop bullying. Bullies get older and end up in jail."
McMahon also points to the dangers of cyberbulling, which he termed cowardice in the extreme. He mentioned to students the case of Phoebe Prince, an Irish 15-year-old who emigrated to Massachusetts but wound up committing suicide three years ago after relentless online bullying, a death that led to stronger anti-bullying legislation in the Bay State.
"Even if you are getting bullied, there are ways of getting help," teacher Ford reminded the class.
McMahon admitted that some of the lessons in his book are harsh, but so is bullying. He still feels the emotional scars, he said, of a time when he stood as a lookout for teachers while a teen had his long blond locks cut by bullies at Fitch High.
"I've never forgiven myself for allowing that to happen," McMahon said in an interview before his appearance at Great Neck.
Students Bobby Lokken and Will Rocchetti, both 10, said they enjoyed McMahon's presentation.
"I liked it when McMoose stood up to the bully," Rocchetti said. "That's the big point - when you have kids who are bullying you need to learn to stand up to people."
Title: "Manny McMoose and His Chubby Caboose"
Author: Kevin McMahon
Illustrations: Henry LaBoue
Price: $10.95, $1 donated to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research