Billy the bull pushed Penelope the pig into the mud one day—headfirst and on purpose. Griffin the goat wants to know why he can only play with other goats and no other types of farm animal friends.
In two newly published books written for kids, Buccholz High School senior Jhett Hill tackles two of the biggest problems he said kids face in schools today: bullying and exclusion.
"The themes of kindness and inclusivity are lessons that children and adults alike can practice in their everyday lives," the 18-year-old Hill said.
After watching bullying and exclusion behavior happening in the news in politics and in current events involving racism, Hill said he spent time during the pandemic revisiting two books he authored back in seventh and eighth grade from a class assignment.
"Bullying in middle school is when it peaks in our lives," Hill said, explaining that from his experience in school kids at the middle school age haven't always learned about the Golden Rule of treating others with kindness as you would want to be treated.
During the pandemic, Hill said he upgraded the graphics and did some minor editing to the projects he made five years ago.
When he first made the books for a grade, he said his aunt, who works at a local copy center, helped bind his projects and give them a finished, published book look.
"She took it to the next level having it spiral bound," Hill said.
As he was revising them, Hill said he noticed that the topics he wrote about for the assignment were prevalent in the news: "It was weird to see that each topic I touched on was happening now."
In the first book, "Billy and Penelope," he wrote about a one character's parents getting very ill, much like the effect of COVID-19.
"It's uncanny how similar the book topics came out to be," he said, also referring to the unrest and protests happening from coast to coast addressing racism.
"Some were a little frightening to see," he said. "We are really living in a big moment in history. If more people learn the lessons in the book it might not happen in the next generation."
The second book, "Griffin and Shelly: A Tale of Togetherness" addresses reaching out and making friends with creatures that are different from yourself. In the story, Griffin the goat is told he cannot play with the sheep or chickens or any animals other goats on the farm. But Griffin is the only goat so he defies the farm rule and ends up trying anyway. At first, the other animals reject him and he feels like he has been "punched in his feelings."
But finally, one of the other farm animals Shelly the sheep reaches out to Griffin and asks him to play. Soon others join in.
Hill said he originally aimed the books at readers in from second to fifth grades. He said he went through his childhood books to learn how to communicate difficult issues in a simple way.
"The books I read as a child are what I used to as a model of how complex and how deep to go in the topic and to balance the diction and story so that they wouldn't be too complicated even for kindergarteners," he said.
Hill even enlisted the help of his cousin to create a video of him reading the books.
At the end of the reading each book in the video Hill explains that with Billy and Penelope, "If you treat others the way you want to be treated, then good things will come your way."
At the end of reading "Griffin and Shelly" Hill says, "When personal prejudices and exclusivity are dropped, everyone can see the true beauty of uniqueness. Children and adults alike can take away the benefit of being open and accepting to those who are different from us."
Hill said he plans to have a career in environmental science and possibly become an environmental lawyer to develop policy. But his book authoring days may not stop with these two books.
"As I go through my life taking mental notes of prevalent issues, I might write more books if I ever have time like the quarantine again."
Hill's books come as local parents have increasingly stepped forward to say bullying is a serious problem in several area school districts.