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Jeremy Serls insists the idea really did come to him in the middle of the night.

His then-3-year-old daughter recently had come home with a note that she'd been involved in some incident on the playground, and it set him thinking about bullying and how it's presented to preschool- and kindergarten-age children.

"What are they doing to teach the kids at that age about bullying?" he said.

That theme bounced around in his head for a little while, until one night in January 2014 he woke up with an idea: write a children's book about a bull getting bullied.

His thinking was that it'd be helpful with kids to focus this issue with a mascot, a la McGruff the Crime Dog or Smokey Bear. And a bull worked great, he said, because it also helps kids learn not to "judge a book by its cover ... even bulls can be bullied," he said.

So Serls — writing as J.G. Serls — wrote "Bernie Gets Bullied," the story of Bernie the Bull's issues at school. A few weeks ago, he self-published 200 copies of the book, which is geared toward kids age 4 to 7.

Sitting in Books-A-Million in Springettsbury Township on a recent Friday afternoon, he flipped through the pages of the book, talking about the short read's basic premise. Bernie — named after Serls' grandfather, not the presidential candidate — gets picked on. His friend talks to him about it, telling the little bull he's got to speak up about it, so he goes to his teacher, who talks to the bullies, and everything ends up well.

Serls said that's the main focus of the book: empowering kids to do something about bullying. It's inevitable that someone's going to treat you badly sometime, Serls said — it's not right, but it's the unfortunate truth. So, Serls reasoned, the commonsense approach is to teach kids that they have the power to stand up for themselves and their friends and seek help.

So far, he's been selling copies of the book to friends and then friends of friends.

"I'd say I've gotten to three degrees of separation," he said. He said it'll be a thrill when the first totally random person orders a book.

He's planning another book featuring Bernie that's about cyberbullying. He said he'd recently read about the death of Shania Sechrist, a 15-year-old York City student whose father said bullying, especially in the digital realm, led in part to his daughter's suicide.

"Cyberbullying is definitely an added pressure," Serls said.

He also said he's been talking to some local school districts about getting his book into the schools, and he's doing other events — he said he had a reading planned at The Goddard School, a preschool in Springettsbury Township.

And eventually, that might involve him going the vein of McGruff and donning a bull costume.

"I've already priced it out," he said.

— Reach Sean Cotter at scotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @SPCotterYD.

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