Local author hopes to combat bullyingSeptember 22, 2017
By OLIVIA INGLE
JASPER — Gary Wittmann has seen firsthand the effects bullying has on kids.
The 64-year-old Jasper man was a special education teacher at Forest Park Junior-Senior High School for 33 years.
“The kids would come back crying and we would sit down and talk about,” Wittmann said. “It didn’t matter what grade level it is, bullies are out there.”
Wittmann retired from teaching in 2007, the same school year he was given the 2007 Teacher of the Year Award from the Learning Disabilities Association of Indiana. Since retirement, he has dedicated much of his time to writing self-published children’s books that he says are based on his years and years of listening in his classroom. He’s been a professional storyteller for nearly 30 years.
His “Fifth Grade” series is based on kids understanding bullies. That series includes “Fifth Grade Monster School,” “Fifth Grade Dragon Master” and “Fifth Grade Timothy Bottoms Rules.”
“This is the right time for all parents to have an open talk with their children regarding bullying as the schools reopen,” Wittmann said. “The repercussions of bullying are very underrated, as it has the power to crush the emotions and enthusiasm of a child.”
Wittmann talked specifically about “Timothy Bottoms Rules” and how it includes ways to deal with bullying.
“As you can see, Timothy Bottoms is just a little bit different than everyone else. He stutters. He is short,” Wittmann said. “Everybody picked on him when he was in the fourth grade. He was hoping that fifth grade will be different. But, about three days before school starts he finds out that his older brother is going off to the Armed Service.”
In addition to bullying, Wittmann said another message in the book deals with how parents can prepare their child for a loved one going off to service.
“A lot of parents who have read this book say they had a hard time at the end,” Wittmann said. “Sometimes when I’m telling the story to a group of people, I have a hard time getting to the end.
“I wanted the ending to be positive. I wanted to get across that he (Timothy Bottoms) started doing things that were appropriate to stop people from bullying him. And the secret is, his brother does come home.”
Wittmann has written other children’s books, such as his “Underwear nerds and booger boys” series and “Famous, Fantastic, Fabulous Fast Turtle.” Storytime Pup, an online educational channel for kids, recently posted a reading of “Fast Turtle” on YouTube.
Wittmann also self-publishes adult coloring books and has a German American Love Cookbook under the Max Wittmann pen name. The “Fast Turtle” book also includes a turtle soup recipe.
Wittmann said the most difficult part of self-publishing has been waiting for people to find his stories, something that he’s seeing more and more of.
“I thought it was never going to happen,” he said. “I’m excited. Now I can get my stories out.”
Wittmann said he has always loved to write. He grew up in Evansville and recalled a childhood memory of him and his siblings — younger brother, Christopher, and younger sister, Cindy — sitting around the kitchen table spelling out words in their “refrigerator soup.”
“We grew up and we didn’t have a lot of money,” Wittmann said. “We did the very best we could. My mom would make ‘refrigerator soup,’ which was anything in the refrigerator that did not have mold on it. A lot of corn. A lot of beans. To make it thicker, mom would buy bags of ABCs and 123s macaroni. I would go, ‘G, A, R, Y. I got my name!’”
Growing up, Gary knew he wanted to become a teacher. He attended Indiana State University-Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana) and ISU in Terre Haute and earned an elementary teaching degree and a special education degree. But, he’s also always had a passion for storytelling.
He used to do storytelling programs with his guitar at local libraries, and even recorded a CD of original children’s songs with his brother. His goal now is to write every day.
“I want kids to understand that they can write books, too,” he said. “I also want kids to have fun reading.”
Wittmann has three adult children, Jonathan Wittmann, Zachary Wittmann and Ashlee Stevens; and two grandchildren, Addison Stevens, 3, and Charlie Stevens, 7 months.
To learn more about Wittmann and his books, visit www.authorgarywittmann.com.
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