Interview with Mom’s Choice Award-Winner Tina Levine

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Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.

Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! We hope this finds you well- thank you for joining us for another installment of our interview series. For this installment, we were privileged to talk with Tina Levine, the author of the MCA award-winning book, Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise. Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise is a heartwarming and motivating story about a girl who is bullied based on her appearance and “socially unacceptable” habits and how she overcomes it. Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise encourages kids to do what is right, even if it doesn’t exactly go with the flow. Keep read to find out more about Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise and it’s author, Tina Levine!

MCA: Hi Tina! Well done on your Mom’s Choice Award! In an age where the topic of bullying is more important than ever, Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise really dives deep into the deep layers of bullying. You can tell by reading Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise that there is a deep connection between the author and the story.  Can we start the interview by finding out a little bit about that connection and about your background in general?

Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top's Surprise Author & Illustrator

“Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise” Author & Illustrator

Tina: I earned a master’s degree in regular and special education and taught for twenty-five years in public schools. I am the proud mother of three amazing, successful men and my husband is Ned Levine, the illustrator of Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise. I am a proud member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). My love for the physical and mental benefits of yoga led me to become a certified yoga instructor, which has influenced all aspects of my life.

My affinity for writing goes back to my childhood. My dad and I wrote poetry to each other even into our adult lives. Our writing relationship, and the deep love for my dad, continues to inspire me to write from my heart and soul. Whether it is poetry, fiction, or even non-fiction, I create pros inspiring the reader to be the best version of themselves.

I can still recall from childhood, the pain of being called four eyes and, at times, socially excluded. That’s when I became consciously aware of bullying for the very first time. As a classroom teacher for twenty-five years, I have observed children and adults bullied. All of these experiences have inspired her book, “Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise.”

MCA: That is so beautiful that you and your father have that connection. I’m sorry to hear about your experience with bullying, it is certainly something that can cause pain that lasts well into adulthood. What was your inspiration for writing Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise?

Tina: I retired from teaching four years ago. Most of my time has been spent tutoring and writing. In the second summer of my retirement from teaching, I spontaneously began writing a fiction story about bullying. When I resumed tutoring that same school year, I shared my intended book with a reluctant reading student. The student encouraged me to write more chapters. So, we made a pact. Each week, I would provide a new chapter for us to read together. It became a win, win for both of us. The student looked forward to reading each session, and I completed the book. Then, randomly I came across a course online teaching authors how to write and publish children’s books. I said, “This was no accident! I always wanted to share my stories and poems. However, I lacked the knowledge and confidence to move forward. It was as they say “KISMET!”

The book Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise has had over 40 five star reviews on Amazon in a short period of time. The rest is history. My husband Ned and I are grateful and honored to have this book win the Mom’s Award for Excellence 2020 Gold Level. We hope both children, parents, and professionals will enjoy the read and be enlightened by its messages.

MCA: Yes, definitely sounds like kismet! What are some of the lessons that are present within Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise?

Tina: I think the reviews say it all…In book two we will find out how she learned many of these lessons. Here are some of the reviews:

“I am 10 years old and read “Better Than A Bully” by Tina Levine. This is my review:
At the start of the story, Annie is bullied by everyone and does not have any friends. She faces the humiliation of the nickname “Carrot Top” because of her red hair. Annie’s story shows the reader that you should not judge someone by how they look or what they do, but by their character, and how they behave and act. I think that this is a great book and in some parts very funny like for example when Annie’s mom asks “What’s new?” and Annie replies “New Jersey, New Hampshire, and New York.” My final compliment is that this story is written from the perspective of the bystander named Tara, and you can read her emotions and see how she changes from being a bystander to a supportive friend.”

“Better Than a Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise is a great read for upper elementary and middle school students! The main character, Annie, models resilience, grace, and humor in the face of hurtful behavior from classmates. Her story shows readers that they don’t have to change who they are in order to be liked and valued by others. Rather, it is by being her authentic self that Annie shines most brightly. This is a heartwarming story of kindness given and kindness received. “

“Better Than A Bully has an important lesson to teach–that kids in the “in crowd” have the power to change attitudes toward a child who’s a target of bullying–but it teaches the lesson through a fun, imaginative story about characters we care about. Tara, the story’s narrator, is one of the cool kids, yet she’s as beset by insecurities and self-doubt as anyone else. She overcomes her fear and embraces the nerdy, overweight “loser,” who is in fact quite a winner–and she brings her cool-kid friends along with her as they discover that no child should ever be viewed as a loser. Parents will appreciate this book, and children will love it.”

“Better Than a Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise is a fascinating and entertaining story shedding a unique light on the bully, bystanders, and victims for upper elementary or middle school children. Don’t miss the insightful opportunity to use the jumpstart questions provided for each chapter with your child, grandchild or student, or as a service provider.”

"Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top's Surprise" Cover-art

“Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise” Cover-art

MCA: Why is this book so pertinent for children of all ages to read, especially in this day and age?

Tina: Although this particular book in the series does not reflect racial bullying, we are living in a time of “Black Lives Matter” and with a president who demonstrates bullying verbal behavior. We need to restore humane values in our society, home, and schools. These are the places where children are most influenced. This book teaches through story-telling, self-respect for themselves and others. Helping them realize everyone, even the bully, has a story. Therefore encouraging children to get to know someone well and think first before using bullying behavior.

MCA: There are some question starters at the end of each chapter of Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise, what is the purpose of these questions?

Tina: Through my years of teaching experience, I have found that children often learn best through their own voices. Discussion on this topic after each chapter encourages reflection in a non-threatening environment and will aid healing and forgiveness to themselves and others. Overall, the mission is to aid mental wellness.

MCA: Why was it so important for you to include multicultural characters within Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise?

Tina: I wanted this story to reach out to diverse cultures where children go to school and live in diverse neighborhoods. They will experience different types of bullying throughout the books. Learning that bullying is not owned by any one group. Compassion, empathy, and resilience are the values emphasized throughout the series.

MCA: What is next for Better Than A Bully?

Tina: The first book covered verbal bullying. The next one is covering physical bullying with more in-depth plots.

MCA: That sounds amazing, we look forward to reading it!

You can learn more about Tina Levine and her award-winning book, Better Than A Bully: Carrot Top’s Surprise, by visiting her MCA Shop pages. You can also view a fun and informative video by Tina and Ned Levine by clicking here.

Interview With Lydia Cohn


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