Peter Mayhew, the actor who played lovable Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy, has written a new anti-bullying book for children. Beautifully illustrated by artist Terry Naughton, the story is told through a frank conversation between Katie Johnson and Peter Mayhew.
Who was Katie Johnson?
Katie Johnson was a little girl who loved Star Wars. Her father, Albin Johnson, was the founder of the 501st Legion, a Star Wars costuming fan club that did charity work all over the world.
Afflicted with brain cancer, young Katie passed away at the age of seven. When she became ill, Albin decided he wanted to build a droid for Katie to watch over her as she slept (like R2-D2 did for Princess Amidala in Episode II). Katie's sister suggested they make the droid pink and name it R2-KT for Katie.
The entire R2 Builder's Group collaborated to build the droid, but Katie's life expectancy was too short for the project to be completed, so a member of the group, Andy Schwartz, repainted his droid pink and shipped it to Katie.
The droid brought Katie great joy and stayed in her room watching over her until she lost her battle with cancer on August 9, 2005. On July 8, 2006, the new R2-KT was completed and its mission is to visit and entertain sick children. Click here to learn more about R2-KT.
Who is Peter Mayhew?
Peter Mayhew is the 7 foot 3 inch actor who played Han Solo's friend Chewbacca in the original trilogy.
From the time he was born, Peter Mayhew was much bigger than everyone else.
People were unkind to him because he was different, and he describes these painful experiences to Katie Johnson in My Favorite Giant. It was not until George Lucas took a chance on Peter with the role of Chewbacca that people stopped being afraid of Peter and wanted to get to know him.
What is My Favorite Giant?
Peter and Angie Mayhew's new book teaches acceptance to young audiences. Peter takes a floating journey through time, accompanied by young Katie Johnson, showing her who he was as a small boy and how he evolved into the person he is today.
Katie asks simple, innocent questions that go right to the heart of how Peter felt about being different. For example, in the early part of the book, the following conversation takes place over a number of pages, with one or two sentences on each artistically-designed page:
"I was always the tallest boy in my class."
"Wow, being a giant must be fun, Peter."
"Well, not always, Katie."
"You see, Katie, my clothes didn't fit very well and my shoes hurt my feet a lot."
"That's sad, Peter."
"Were your clothes the only problem, Peter?"
"Oh no Katie, I had to deal with bigger problems."
"People were sometimes mean to me and called me unkind names. That hurt my feelings."
"Why didn't people like you, Peter?"
"My size frightened them, Katie."
"But why, Peter? Your size doesn't scare me."
"That's because you took the time to get to know me, Katie."
We continue to follow Peter and Katie through the book as he becomes famous for playing Chewie. He also introduces us to his good friend, Kenny Baker, the little person who played R2D2. Kenny explains how people who don't know him treat him differently because he is so small.
Peter and Kenny show young Katie how they are more alike than different, and how they can help each other by working together. Peter and Katie travel to Africa to see how animals help each other, and Katie comments, "Hey, Peter, people should do the same thing."
The book ends with several pages illustrating how Friendship Replaces Fear and Kindness Replaces Meanness, followed by a touching scene where Katie tells Peter that he is her favorite giant.
I first learned about My Favorite Giant in December of 2010, when the book was nearing completion. Jerry Cates, the literary agent for Peter Mayhew, had heard the story about how my own seven-year-old Katie had been taunted for being a girl who loves Star Wars.
Jerry contacted me to see if a drawing of Katie could be included on the page depicting how friendship replaces fear, and we were honored to participate.
My Favorite Giant is a lovely addition to the body of work for young children promoting acceptance and understanding. Studies have shown that we are most successful at changing negative stereotypes about those who are different when we intervene at an early age, and reading about people who are different can make a strong positive impact on kids.
Whether your child blends in pretty well or stands out as being different, he or she can benefit from messages of acceptance. Acceptance of self, acceptance of others - we all need to work on one or the other of these, probably both.
Kids target each other for any and every reason, and no matter what the cause, it still hurts. A child may be taunted for being adopted or a foster child, too tall, too short, too heavy, too thin, too smart or too dumb, too loud or too shy, too dark-skinned or too light-skinned, too poor or too rich, autistic or physically disabled -- you name it and kids will find a reason to cast each other out.
Reading books about how it feels to be taunted can give children the words to describe their own experiences and can teach them to recognize bullying when it happens. My Favorite Giant is a nonthreatening way to gently start talking about these issues. Thank you, Peter and Angie, for your thoughtful new book.