'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 26 January 2012

Guest Post: Some Secrets should Never Be Kept

Kids Book Review welcomes Jayneen Sanders teacher, editor, author and publisher — to tell us about the challenges she faced with writing a book about sexual abuse. The lessons she has learned along the way and the lessons she hopes to share with the book. Over to you Jayneen.

About three years ago, when I was on my children’s school council, I brought up the topic of protective behaviours. I asked my fellow committee members why we did not have a protective behaviours program in our school. No one could give me a satisfactory answer, and time and time again the topic was placed at the bottom of the agenda.

At this time, I was teaching at another primary school, and I suspected at least two young girls were being abused. All the staff felt the same — frustrated — we simply did not have proof of the abuse and the perpetrator knew it. I decided then and there that I personally would try to do something about the protective behaviours issue, and how it was being ignored.

As an author, I challenged myself to write a picture book that broached the subject of sexual interference. I wanted to write in a way that was neither confronting nor frightening for both parents and children. My husband was dubious that I could actually write such a manuscript, but I was not. I had seen story be used in philosophy classes with kinder and primary school-aged children, and I knew it was a powerful medium when discussing difficult topics. Through story we can get children talking.

So I wrote Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept and I wrote it with all the passion I feel about keeping our children safe from sexual interference. The statistics speak for themselves; 1 in 4 girls and I in 7 boys will be sexually interfered with before adulthood. There is an elephant in the room and we need to look at it.

Sometimes, as parents, we are not there to protect our children — the first sleepover, a school camp. Our children need to know their rights. They need to know their body is their body and no-one has the right to touch it inappropriately. Perpetrators rarely target confident children.

After I had written the manuscript for Some Secrets, I showed it to three publishers. I have been published many times so I had a number of contacts in the industry. All three publishers rejected the manuscript saying it was too ‘educational’. I felt frustrated with their response but this made me more determined.

My husband and I then decided we would publish the book ourselves, at our own expense. We are by no means affluent so this was quite a big commitment on my family’s part. But we all agreed (including my three teenage daughters) if the book made a difference to one child, it would be well worth it.

The next hurdle was finding an illustrator. I tried two I knew of, but both said they felt uncomfortable with the topic. Finally, I approached Craig Smith and thank goodness I did. His artwork is fantastic. Craig’s words to me were ‘the topic makes me feel uncomfortable but that is every reason why I should do it’. And I am eternally grateful for his response. Craig worked tirelessly on the illustrations and for a minimal cost, as he knew we were producing this book ourselves. Craig is an outstanding artist and I cannot thank him enough for his beautiful work.

At around this time, I heard the CEO of Child Wise, Bernadette McMenamin, being interviewed on ABC radio. Child Wise is charity that works tirelessly to stop child sexual abuse both in Australia and internationally. I straightaway rang them and asked if they would write me a foreword for my book. They agreed! The staff at Child Wise have been wonderful and very supportive. And hopefully, Child Wise will help me launch the book early this year.

So, late last year, Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept arrived from the printer. We now have a wonderful hardcover book with gorgeous glossy paper to show off Craig’s lovely art. There are a large number of boxes in our garage containing 2,000 copies. Well, 1,900 as we have sold about 100 books. Upload Publishing, which is our small publishing company, has finally published their first book and what a worthwhile project too!

I feel quite proud that we were able to publish this book ourselves. We are only selling the book on-line and lots of people are posting about us on Facebook, which has been fantastic. The feedback has been great. Our website has sample pages, testimonials, etc. We are all set up!

So now it’s marketing – which is not really my area but I’m learning. ABC radio in Melbourne was wonderful and invited me, along with Bernadette, onto the Richard Stubbs Show. It was a great interview even though it was my first time on radio. I hope to get a few newspapers to review the book, but we’ll see.

The whole reason why I wrote Some Secrets was to get answers to my questions: what are we doing about protective behaviours in our schools and why isn’t it mandatory. We teach road safety and water safety — as a community of parents and teachers we need to teach our kids body safety. I strongly believe protective behaviours needs to be a part of our new Australian Curriculum.

On that note, I will leave this post and continue ringing and sending emails to various organisations. I have provided discussion question at the back of the book to guide the reader and child through the essential discussion that should and must occur after the book has been read.

It’s interesting; a friend of mine was ‘worried’ about reading Some Secrets to her four-year-old son. Finally, they sat down, read the book and went through the discussion questions. She said later that it was really no big deal after all her angst, and the next morning there was her son, sitting up in bed reading the story again, as his book of choice.

I’d like to assure parents that after reading Some Secrets to their child, he or she at least would know that if anyone does touch them inappropriately that it is wrong and that they must tell someone. Some secrets should never be kept. This book is meant to be a preventive measure. Forewarned is forearmed!

For more information about the book or to buy a copy go to www.somesecrets.info