“What happened at Penn State?”
That is the question my young son asked me when he came home from school, a day or two after the Penn State story broke. Kids at school had been talking about it, and my son was curious.
I answered him as simply and as truthfully as I could. “A coach started a charity that he said was to help kids, but he was [allegedly] abusing kids. He was hurting them.”
Then I brought home some books from the library.
It’s Perfectly Normal: a Book about Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberly acknowledges, “It is scary and creepy to hear about sexual abuse.” The chapter called Staying Healthy gives kids and grown ups the vocabulary they need to discuss what sexual abuse is and what to do if it happens to someone we know. “Tell another person you know and trust – right away!” This book is best for older elementary or middle-school. The publisher recommends it “for age 10 and up.”
My Body is Special: A Family Book about Sexual Abuse by Cynthia Geisen, illustrated by R.W. Alley is suitable for younger children. How young? That depends on the child. The children depicted in the illustrations go to school and are old enough to bathe and dress themselves, so this looks like a book for elementary school-aged children. It might also be useful for a caring grown up to use as a starting point for a discussion with younger children as well. This book introduces the concepts of privacy and trust. Chapter headings include, “Don’t Blame Yourself” and “Talk with an Adult You Trust.” The theme of God’s love is a prominent element of this book.
The first two books listed in this post are nonfiction. Not in Room 204 by Shannon Riggs, illustrated by Jamie Zollers is fiction. It is a story, but it gets to a bigger truth: adults help kids. Regina Lillian Hadwig is a student in Room 204, a classroom presided over by the strong, strict, and no-nonsense Mrs. Salvatore. Mrs. Salvatore makes sure Room 204 is a place where students do their best and are kind to their classmates. Regina appreciates the safe, structured classroom Mrs. Salvatore has set up. At a parent-teacher conference, Mrs. Salvatore tells Regina, “I am very pleased with all your work. You are a very bright girl.” But Regina is also very quiet. She is so quiet, she has not told anyone—not even her mother—about what happens to her at home. One day, the class discusses stranger danger and child abuse. Mrs. Salvatore assures her students, “If someone told me this happened to them, I know exactly what to do to help.”
As we hear Mrs. Salvatore talk to her students and see Regina thoughtfully consider her teacher’s words, we come to identify with both of them and feel emotionally invested in their story.
Children can imagine themselves as Regina, being brave enough to confide in her teacher. Adults can imagine themselves as Mrs. Salvatore, being responsible enough to know exactly what to do.