Anne-Marie Conway writes a feature for todays stop on the How to be More Hedgehog blog tour detailing her inspiration for this must read 2022 publication.
It was break time at the theatre company I run on Saturdays. A group of Year 6 children (who had only recently got their first mobile phones) were crowded around one phone, eyes fixed on the screen, laughing. There was something furtive about it that made me uneasy, an instinct that something wasn’t quite right. I went over to ask them what they were watching, and the phone quickly disappeared out of sight.
It was a horrible heart sink moment when I subsequently found out that one member of the group had filmed another boy rehearsing his solo song and then shared it around. The boy they’d filmed was extremely shy and it was the first time he had been brave enough to take on a solo. Of course, the video soon found its way to his own phone: the fallout was awful. He ended up leaving the group, too embarrassed to continue.
Cyberbullying is one of the themes in ‘How to be More Hedgehog’. Lily has a stammer, and when her older brother uploads a video of her practising her school presentation on ‘plastics in our oceans’, it is viewed and commented on by people she knows, as well as total strangers. She tries everything she can to get the video deleted, but soon realises that it’s ‘not like tearing a page out of a book and throwing it away’.
Recent research shows that the most common age for cyberbullying is the transition period between primary and high school, and that one of the methods used is sending images or videos intended to humiliate or embarrass the recipient.
As our tweens and teens spend more of their time online, cyberbullying has become a major issue. The fact that the bullies can hide behind a screen doesn’t make the effects any less damaging to those involved. Victims report feeling anxious, angry, powerless, out-of-control and hurt.
There was nothing I could do to persuade the boy in my theatre company to continue attending. The incident fractured the entire group. The children involved were mortified that they had colluded in something so cruel and damaging. They were only 11 years old and had little understanding of the lasting impact, for the target of their ‘joke’ (as they described it) but also for themselves. They wanted to put it right, but it was too late. As Lily soon realises, ‘The recording is out there in the world, spreading from person to person like a virus, and there’s nothing I can do to make it stop.’
Towards the end of How to be More Hedgehog, Lily finds the courage to create her own nature Vlog. She films herself talking about subjects she is passionate about and uploads them herself. She still stammers, of course, and occasionally people still leave mean comments, but it was important for me that after everything she had been through, that she was able to take back control of her own narrative.
I picked up my copy of How to be More Hedgehog and settled down on my sofa, and within minutes I knew I held in my hands another firm favourite read of mine because this book resonated with me on a personal level. The main character in How to be More Hedgehog is a shy, self conscious young girl called Lily, and she struggles with a stammer. Lily’s new class teacher refers her for speech and language therapy in a bid to try to help the young girl, and I am familiar with this process as I have completed it with my youngest child, and my nephew is currently undertaking it too.
Lily’s struggles are depicted with such authenticity that you can understand and empathise with her from the get go, and I have so much respect for this book shining a light onto speech impairments, and the speech and language process too. Lily’s mum is often preoccupied with other things, and you can completely empathise with Lily, and feel frustrated for her that she doesn’t have the support at home you want her to have. Things do get better for Lily as her story continues, which you find yourself so invested in from the offset.
Lily loves animals, especially Hedgehogs, and I loved making the connection with the title of the book, because Lily is so conscious of her stammer that all she wants to do is curl up in a ball and hibernate. This is a poignant and powerful read that brings much needed awareness to so many relevant topics, including bullying.
For more reviews and insight relevant to How to be More Hedgehog check out the rest of the blog tour, information for which can be found on the banner below.