children's books about sexual abuse

A Notes from the Windowsill annotated bibliography by Wendy E. Betts. Copyright 2006

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Last Updated 06/20/06


Picture Books

(Click for fiction, ages 5-12, young adult fiction and nonfiction )

No More Secrets for Me by Oralee Wachter. Illustrated by Jane Aaron. Little Brown, 1994; 2003 (0-316-88209-9) $14.95

Subtitled "a book for adults to share with children," this book features four simply written short stories about children who are being sexually abused. Each story is about a different kind of situation, but all are designed to show children the importance of defending themselves and telling an adult if someone touches them and makes them uncomfortable. Line-and-crayon drawings give bare-bones illustrations to the stories. This revised edition includes some additional guidelines for adults and a list of resources at the end, including space to write names of people "I can tell."

It's certainly not great literature, but if used as a springboard for parent-child discussion, No More Secrets for Me could be very helpful. One positive aspect of the book is the different levels of seriousness of the abuse, from the first story in which a babysitter just needs to be made aware of a child's need for privacy, to the last in which a girl is being "touched all over" by her stepfather. I also like the emphasis on children's right to refuse any physical contact that makes them uncomfortable, even if it's not overtly sexual. More questionable aspects are that the adults who are told are invariably helpful, and the issue of what will happen to the perpetrators is addressed somewhat evasively; no doubt the stories were written this way so as not to make young children afraid of telling, but it leaves some unanswered questions, like "what do I do if the person I tell doesn't believe me?" This is a good start, but it's not a stand alone resource.


Fiction, 5-12

Gilly's Secret (published in hardcover as Gillyflower) by Ellen Howard. Atheneum, 1986; Aladdin, 1993 (0-689-71746-6)

"When bad things happen to princesses, someone always rescues them. The dragons are slain, the towers are unlocked...the wonderful thing about Juliana was she was enchanted. Her bad things weren't real."

Lots of kids like pretend games, but Gilly Harper's pretend game is special--because imagining that she's the beautiful princess Juliana is the only way she can escape, those nights her father wants her to "keep him company." If she can pretend hard enough, she can close out what he does to her, the secret that she can't bear to tell. But Gilly's secret is hurting her in more ways than she realizes - until she makes a special friend and discovers that "sometimes painful things must be done... sometimes, you have to take a chance."

Written with sensitivity and power, Gilly's Secret captures the voice of an abused child, making the tragic effects of the abuse clear without didacticism or graphic details. The ending offers hope for recovery without ignoring the painful effect that "telling" must inevitably have on the family. I only wish that more care had been taken not to equate abuse with poverty, a misconception that should not be perpetuated. (8-12)

Promise Not to Tell by Carolyn Polese. Beech Tree, 1994 (0-688-12026-1) $3.95 pb

Eleven-year-old Meagan is excited about the secret extra riding lesson her riding teacher, Walt, has offered her. If she can pass her "Trail Trials," her family will take a cross-country ride into wild horse country--and Meagan's favorite dream is of wild horses. But then Walt takes her into the woods and tries to hold and touch her--and he won't let her go until she promises not to tell. Meagan has always been taught that it's wrong to break promises and nobody seems to understand or believe her when she tries to tell without breaking her word. Only when he threatens her little sister does Meagan realize that "the only person the secret protected was Walt." Finally telling her parents frees her from her nightmares, and she is able to dream about wild horses once more.

I was pleasantly surprised by this short book. Although obviously designed to convey a message, it is quite well-written and readable simply as a story. Meagan's difficulties in making herself understood are realistic and understandable, an apt reminder to kids to keep trying until someone hears and to adults to be sure to listen. (8-12)


Young Adult Books

Uncle Vampire by Cynthia D. Grant. Atheneum, 1993 (0-689-31852-9) OP

What would you call someone who comes to hurt you in the night, who sucks the life out of your body, who threatens the life of those you love if you tell, who frightens you so much you can no longer tell the difference between reality and nightmare... what else would you call him but a vampire? Sixteen-year-old Carolyn knows her Uncle Toddy must be a vampire--as much as she can know anything, with her thoughts and feelings in constant turmoil. It doesn't help that her twin sister Honey refuses her, telling Carolyn that she must be crazy, even though Carolyn knows Honey is also Uncle Vampire's victim of blood lust in the night. Honey, always the good daughter, won't admit it and won't let Carolyn tell, won't let her say anything that might endanger the precarious emotional balance of their severely dysfunctional family. Their mother is too unstable, their grandmother too frail... how can Carolyn do anything to hurt them, especially when she doesn't even know what's true anymore? And so she slips closer and closer to nightmare, and farther and farther away from sanity.

Despite some flaws, including an overly simple, pat resolution, Uncle Vampire is a profoundly disturbing book; it left me literally shaking. The climax will shock and startle even readers who think they've guessed what the story is really about; yet it is completely foreshadowed and emotionally authentic. * (14 & up)


Nonfiction

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