The old saying “The pen is mightier than the sword” is an adage to which Aija Mayrock, the 19-year-old author of The Survival Guide to Bullying, can certainly attest.
Before penning her guide, which is being published this week by Scholastic, the young author moved to Santa Barbara from New York when she was 14. During her middle and high school years, she was a victim of bullying in both places.
“I was bullied verbally as well as cyberbullied,” said Mayrock. “I would sit at the table and write stories, and I was different from everyone else and I think that people are afraid of what they don’t understand.”
In 2011, Mayrock entered the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s 10-10-10 youth filmmaking content by writing her first screenplay. The screenplay, which highlighted the effects of bullying, launched Mayrock into what would become a turning point in her young life.
“I needed to find something to put my time into…to find a purpose,” explained Mayrock, who decided to “give a voice to the voiceless” through her creativity. “That was a really pivotal moment in my life because I realized I could tell stories and help people with those stories,” she said. “When I decided to write the screenplay, I wanted to find a way to help kids.”
At age 16, Mayrock channeled her experiences and began writing the The Survival Guide to Bullying in the hope of helping future students who might face the same struggles. Mayrock initially self-published her survival guide as an e-book priced at $4.99 so that virtually any kid could afford it. But a story about Mayrock’s accomplishment featured in Publisher’s Weekly soon caught the eye of Scholastic book publishers who wished to publish Mayrock’s survival guide. “It was my dream to work with [Scholastic],” Mayrock said. “I’d grown up reading their books. I knew it was the perfect home for my book.”
This isn’t Mayrock’s first success with Scholastic: she was also recognized for her talent in poetry writing and received Scholastic’s Art and Writing Award in 2013. She credits Scholastic for helping her use her creative talents to make a difference for youth. ”Anyone could be bullied for anything,” Mayrock said. “I want kids to know it is never their fault for being bullied.”
The young author also encourages readers to turn to trusted adults when it comes to confronting bullies. “The number one thing I say is you can’t go through [bullying] alone,” Mayrock said. “The emotional effects of being bullied can haunt kids and go with them for the rest of their lives.
“Whenever I see kids, I talk about my story,” she continued. “There’s a really crazy statistic out there [that says] that 50 percent of the time if someone interferes in a bullying situation, that person will never be bullied again. I always encourage kids to never be a bystander, and if they’re too afraid to intervene it’s okay. I tell them, ‘You have to get a teacher and tell them to intervene’.”
According to Mayrock, approximately 13 million kids in the United States are bullied each day. It is her goal not to ever be a bystander, nor let other young people become bystanders, either.
“The most incredible thing that has come from this book is that I’ve been getting messages from kids all over the world saying, ‘Thank you for writing this book; it’s showing me that I can be strong and that I can survive’,” Mayrock said.
The nine-chapter book is relatively small-sized, which Mayrock said enables readers to carry the book with them anywhere, whether at school, at home, or hiding away from the bullies. The survival guide also includes short quizzes, survival tips, reflection questions and “rap poems,” which helped Mayrock cope with bullying. “I perform these everywhere and kids love them because it reminds them of rap,” Mayrock said, citing Eminem as an inspiration for her poems.
Now a freshman at NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts, Mayrock is studying film and television production and hopes to continue writing and eventually become an actress and possibly a filmmaker after college. As someone who has found her purpose so early in her life, Mayrock gave the following advice to other young people hoping to make a difference: “One thing I would say is don’t be afraid to create your own path. I went the self-publishing route which is really, really rare. I would say don’t be afraid to take chances and create your own path to get where you really want to go.”
Aija Mayrock’s The Survival Guide to Bullying will be available on June 30, with a Spanish version projected for this fall. See aijamayrock.com.