Denise Dufala may be best known for her 30 years as a news anchor, but writing a children’s book has long been atop her bucket list. So when she left Channel 19 in December 2016, Dufala got right to work writing Bomba the Brave, a new book based on a very old story — one she first created back in first grade.
At the now-defunct Coe School in North Olmsted, Dufala and the other students were tasked with writing a short book. She created The Rabbit Who Wore Glasses, a story featuring a bunny whose classmates teased him and called him names because of his eyewear.
“I think I was infatuated with glasses back them,” Dufala laughs. “My whole family had them and I didn’t. I just loved them.”
Years later, someone suggested she turn the story into a children’s book. She loved the idea, but never actually had time to write it.
Although her brother threw the original book away, Dufala never forgot about it. Early last year, her long-ago story became the basis of Bomba the Brave, which now brings an anti-bullying message to classrooms throughout Northeast Ohio and beyond.
As a first-time author, Dufala put in significant work to refine the tale for publication. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she approached the story like a reporter, researching the topic of bullying and scouring the library for similar children’s books.
“I couldn’t find a story about a kid being teased because of glasses in a children’s book format,” she says. “I thought the need was there.”
In May, after more than 50 manuscripts and a test-reading at her son’s school in Lakewood, Bomba the Brave hit shelves. At the heart of the story was Bomba Zurawski, a bespectacled, backpack-wearing, gray bunny Dufala named after her nephew’s favorite childhood toy.
Although editors encouraged her to ditch Bomba’s surname, which was inspired by her mom’s former boss, Dufala resisted. She argued that the character’s name made him more realistic and relatable to young readers.
“In my mind, Bomba’s mom is probably Hispanic, and his dad is probably Polish,” she says. “To me, that represents diversity.”
The book received significant local publicity due to Dufala’s celebrity, helping it become an immediate hit. “All of us, deep down, want a kind society in which to live,” Dufala says. “We certainly don’t want our children coming home with problems like bullying in school. I think the message really resonated.”
Positive responses to the book inspired her to take it a step further. She partnered with Be Kind Stick Together, a global anti-bullying program sponsored by the Mayfield-based Values in Action Foundation (formerly Project Love) and Duck Brand in Avon. Designed for elementary school students, Be Kind Stick Together is a free, character-based school program that teaches kids to combat bullying by practicing kindness and sticking up for one another. As its national ambassador, Dufala courts donors, makes TV and radio appearances, and encourages schools to implement the program.
“Educators know how important it is to preach the message of kindness all the time,” she says. “The more kids see it and the more kids are recognized for their good behavior, the more kids are inspired to do good and be good.”
Dufala gives her own school presentations about kindness, reading Bomba the Brave aloud and speaking with children about how to stand up to bullying. Recently, she visited Forest Elementary School in North Olmsted for the launch of its new Kindness Club, featuring a Bomba-themed kickoff.
“If kids understand from a very young age that they don’t have to accept negative behavior, they can do something about it with their actions,” she says.
Dufala has at least three more Bomba stories in mind, all featuring different bullying situations and topics. “It’s my new mission,” she says.