Young Orange County authors implore others to choose friendship

Troutman children, twins Meka, left, and Dirk, right, both 11, with younger brother Beck, 7, show off their book.
Troutman children, twins Meka, left, and Dirk, right, both 11, with younger brother Beck, 7, show off their book, “From Bullies to Buddies,” which addresses the subject of anti-bullying.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

As the coronavirus pandemic ushered in a new reality for adults and children alike, many people spent time thinking about the opportunities they missed because of the related shutdowns.

Fountain Valley siblings Dirk, Meka and Beck Troutman turned their downtime into a time to get creative.

Earlier this month, the young trio was named the winner of the National Youth Foundation’s Student Book Scholars contest for writing and illustrating its book “From Bullies to Buddies.”

Dirk and Meka are twins who celebrated their 11th birthday on Nov. 6, and their little brother, Beck, is turning 8 on Nov. 19. The three of them attend Roch Courreges Elementary School.

Already, a star-studded panel of professional athletes deemed that the three of them demonstrated a great understanding of the theme of the contest, which was anti-bullying.

The judges of the Student Book Scholars contest included Super Bowl champion running back Corey Clement of the Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Astros outfielder and World Series MVP George Springer, Indiana Pacers forward Alize Johnson and Houston Rockets forward Robert Covington.

Seniors from Corona del Mar, Edison, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Marina, Mater Dei, Newport Harbor, Pacifica Christian O.C. and Santa Margarita signed or committed to continue playing their sport with a college on fall signing day.

Enter the Troutman house and you can see their love for sports. Assorted trading cards are on the kitchen table, and there is art of LeBron James dunking on the wall. That same love of sports helped them discover the contest and learn how to enter.

“I had a subscription to Sports Illustrated for Kids,” Dirk said. “There was an ad in there for a contest for the National Youth Foundation, and then it was quarantine, so we had a bunch of time, so we thought it would be fun to write and illustrate our own book. It said that there would be judges from different basketball teams and stuff.”

The Troutman family’s sons wore basketball gear — Dirk for the Dallas Mavericks and Beck for the Los Angeles Lakers — during a Zoom announcement that they had won and again during the interview for this story.

The kids had an opportunity to interact with professional athletes, too. Clement was seen imitating a drum roll on the Zoom call when the Troutman family was named the winners.

“I think that they’re cool,” Beck, the quiet one of the siblings, said of professional athletes.

Pages showing text and artwork created by the Troutman children for their anti-bullying book.
Pages showing text and artwork created by the Troutman children for their anti-bullying book entry that won them the National Youth Foundation’s student book competition.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“From Bullies to Buddies” tells the fictional story of a kid, Avess, picked on for his accent, who then takes a chance in seeking a friendship with his bully, Marv, based on the advice of another friend. By the end, all three kids are seen hanging out together for a pool party.

“He got advice from her that maybe he just needs a friend,” Meka said. “At first, it was hard for him to believe, but then he gave it a shot, and Marv really did just need a friend. We wanted people to know that that sometimes happens and that bullies bully because sometimes they need friends and they don’t know how to express themselves.”

Natalie Elliott’s book, “Peny’s Purse,” was released last week. The book illustrates the life of Elliott’s aunt, nicknamed “Peny,” who died at age 88 in May. Peny received her college bachelor’s degree at the age of 80.

Meka, who did the sketching, said they were able to work well as a unit, establishing defined roles that allowed for consistency throughout the book. Dirk took on the writing, and Beck outlined the illustrations.

As their mom, Kelly Troutman knew she was biased when she told her kids that they might win, but she fell in love with their teamwork throughout the process.

“It was amazing to watch them just work together so well and find it on their own,” she said. “That, to me, was incredible, and then stick with it, because there were sometimes where it was kind of hard, and they weren’t super excited about certain elements of it, but they had to work as a team, and they did, and I’m just so thrilled with their hard work.”

The illustrations include various bits of symbolism, including a rainbow for inclusion and a “Kick Me” sign, a well-known symbol of bullying.

The Troutman children weighed in with what they hope people can take away from their book.

“I hope that people will learn more about friendship and that they learn more about people’s feelings and how to deal with your own feelings,” Meka said. “You should have those people that you can go to for advice.”

As for what he thought readers would learn, Dirk said, “They’ll find that sometimes people aren’t who you think they are on the surface. I think that can be applied to really anybody, so adults or kids.”

Sophia Hanson, a co-founder of the National Youth Foundation, said this was the fourth year that the organization has held the competition. She said that more than 150 books were submitted this year. Participants could range from kindergarten to eighth grade, and teams could have up to 10 members.

“We kind of created this as a way to leave open the opportunity for kids to have writing competitions,” Hanson said. “Not everybody’s an athlete, so you can still compete by using your words and your art.”

As the winners, the Troutman children got $500 to split among them. About 10 copies of the book will be sent to the family, too. The coordinator of the winning team, in this case their mom, won $250.

Clement said that division based on bullying is a widespread issue. He wants to encourage people to think before they speak, including on social media, to prevent the damage from happening before it is done.

“Bullying definitely takes [place], not just only at school, but outside the walls as well,” Clement said. “Teens definitely experience it at a young age, adolescents, those guys are definitely going through it, so you really have to open your ears up to really feel their message.”

Johnson said he learned to give it his all in everything he does by following the example set by his mother and Kobe Bryant, for whom he wears the No. 24 on his jersey. Concerning this anti-bullying campaign, Johnson agreed that kindness can go a long way.

“That bully might want a friendship with you and that’s the reason why they’re [doing] that type of stuff,” Johnson said. “I think trying to be that person that’s kind to everybody and just talking and being nice and stuff like [that can be effective].”

Pages showing artwork created by the Troutman children for their anti-bullying book.
The Troutman siblings book, “From Bullies to Buddies,” demonstrated a great understanding of the theme of the Student Book Scholars contest, according to the professional athletes who were judges.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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