At a less-than-ideal Long Island public school, 13-year-old Butterball’s above-average height and weight perpetuate his existence as a quiet loner. So it takes his only friend, Maurice, by surprise when Butterball savagely beats him on the playground with a sock full of batteries.
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Facing expulsion from school, Butterball submits to weekly sessions with social worker Liz Jenner. Despite his initial refusal to expose too much about the catalyst for his rage, he eventually admits the roots of his angst, revealing the troubled relationships with his nonchalant father and workaholic mother, and ultimately reaches a crossroads to either pursue a bully’s life of repetitive despair or a life of confident possibility.
Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson III has seen his share of troubles, as well as the kind of cinematic success writers tend to dream up. Being an admitted former bully himself, he has taken on the role of storyteller in Playground, a tale that examines the origin of a bully’s bad behavior and the battles that must be overcome to ultimately find a life with purpose. Here, 50 talks about knowing when to walk away, finding drive and being a gladiator.
Do you think it’s more empowering for kids to have a role model who has stayed on the straight and narrow and found great success, or one who has an imperfect past but has found equal success?
I believe street smarts are just as important as book smarts. The goal is to have a [character] who is universally relatable and prepared for all angles.
Are there people who still might consider you a bully?
Of course, because I am a rap entertainer, and rap is a gladiator-like sport—we’re very competitive.
What’s the difference between being a bully and vehemently protecting yourself at all costs?
A bully is someone who goes after the fight. Protecting yourself is survival. But it’s important for kids to know when to walk away.
What do you say to someone who says that fighting or tormenting someone else actually makes them feel good?
Being mentally strong will get you ahead in life. But being a bully won't get you anywhere. Some kids don't figure that out until it's too late.
Like Butterball finding direction in filmmaking, how can someone find that something to run to rather than always running away from?
Pay attention to winning. It’s important for kids to find an interest that drives them, whether it's movies, music, sports or something else. Once they feel that fire, they can rise above anything.
Who do you want to be more inspired by your book, the bully or the bullied?
My goal is that this book will have a positive influence on all teenagers. This book is about a bully who finds redemption. The lesson is about learning how to deal with your emotions in a positive way.