Schoolyards, Stories and Storms: What I Learned about Facing Fears
May is Domestic Violence Prevention Month here in Queensland. It heralds the annual event designed 'to raise community awareness of the social and personal impacts of domestic and family violence and the support available to those affected.'

I hope, picture books, like At The End of Holyrood Lane are able to contribute to this heighten level of awareness and encourage us all to 'do something', take heart, find the courage to speak up and ultimately foster change. I wrote this article last year whilst reflecting on some of the fears I harboured as a child and how they coloured my emotional makeup.
Some forty odd years ago, I was the new kid in a new school in a new state having relocated from Queensland to South Australia. I could barely understand the strange southern dialect and mentality and felt more bewildered than excited.  I was also the sort of child whose closest friends dwelt in books. Stories offered a solace I actively sought. Storybook characters never judged me, let alone forced me into unwelcome situations.

At the ripe old age of six, I had my first epiphany at East Para Primary School, formerly Para Hills East Primary. Standing by the washbasins in the girls’ toilets (there’s no accounting for location when insight strikes), friendless and acutely conscience of the aura of ‘difference’ that enshrouded me, I noticed two girls in my grade staring at me with barely veiled curiosity; they as isolated by hesitation as I was by my reluctance to interact. But it was okay, I told myself as a profound thought galvanised me: at least I had books. Books were constant and amazing and everything in them was all that I could possibly ever need. Of this, I was certain.

It was a powerful realisation and a conviction I carried into my adulthood.

Thankfully, both those girls and I eventually entered the friendship zone although their companionship struggled to match that of a good book, my forever ally.
Despite that watershed moment, it was impossible to know back then where my relationship with stories would eventually lead. That it has resulted in a career as a published children’s author was not completely inevitable. How could I not end up surrounded by those characters I so loved and so wished to be? To say I hid in books, though is perhaps a misrepresentation. Books didn’t just provide protection from the real world; they also nurtured, enlightened, entertained and encouraged me, virtues I continue to promote on their behalf today.

In my latest picture book At The End of Holyrood Lane, the main character, Flick has plenty of reasons to run and hide. She is afraid of thunderstorms, shrinking from their fury, as many young children are wont to do. Yet there is a secondary undercurrent of meaning in this tale as readers soon discern from Nicky Johnston’s emotionally arresting illustrations. The storms that plague Flick’s world are in reality the violator of her peace, the abuser of her and her mother.

Townsville Cyclone of the type I experienced as a child

The allegorical use of raging storms to depict the fear and torment endured by young children experiencing domestic violence is intentional and allows victims to recognise their untenable situation and hopefully seek change, as Flick finally does.

We all dread something and no matter how seemingly insignificant that fear is, it is still a valid feeling especially in young children. Recognising and acknowledging fear is the first step in overcoming it, as Flick does and as I did. This is why I believe Holyrood Lane’s appeal extends far beyond the subject of domestic violence, as brutally significant as that is. This tale is relevant to any child who experiences anxiety, insecurity and the feeling of being unsafe.

It is not easy facing ones anxieties and initiating change to overcome them but one failsafe way of doing so is with stories. Stories offer safe environments to encourage emotional plasticity in children. Picture book stories in particular excel as conversation starters offering reflection, refuge and ultimately, hope. It is why they are crucial classroom elements.

I hope that children both in classroom and home environments are able to experience similar feelings of empowerment from my books, just as I did all those years ago.
At The End of Holyrood Lane - A landmark book on a subject, which is a no longer a hidden, tragic aspect life. The skilful use of thunderstorms and stormy skies as metaphors, coupled with simple and yet powerful illustrations makes this a book, which should be on the shelves of kindergarten and school libraries and used as an instructive talking time in classrooms. Beautifully done and presented. Janet Mawdesley Blue Wolf Reviews Children’s Books

If you know someone who is suffering emotional or physical abuse or are a victim of domestic violence yourself, please use these links for information and support about domestic violence.

If you know of or have a child experiencing severe emotional anxieties for whatever reason, perhaps my picture book can encourage gentle conversations about facing their fears and help you both understand how and why to seek help. Comprehensive teachers' notes accompany all my books and also provide some excellent ideas for activities and exercises that may assist with extended learning and understanding. Feel free to get in touch if you ever need to chat more about this.

This article first appeared as a SA Education PD piece and most recently as a feature piece for Greenleaf Press. 


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