Listen: Author Michelle Derrig chats about her book 'Only for Me' with Hope 103.2's Katrina Roe
One of the greatest moments for an author, is that moment they hear that their writing has impacted someone’s life for the better.
For Sydney children’s writer Michelle Derrig, it was the moment a mum wrote to say her little boy had just disclosed that he was being inappropriately touched—a secret he had been carrying, but had been too afraid to share.
Despite the tragic nature of the story, for Michelle it was a sign that her hard work was paying off. She is the author of Only For Me, a rhyming picture book aimed at teaching kids about their bodies and how to protect themselves from child predators. Chatting to Hope 103.2’s Katrina Roe, Michelle said it was both a sad and heartening moment.
“I’d only sent the book off to her 24 hours prior,” she said. “I received an email to say she received a disclosure from her child on the first reading. When they got to the ‘secrets’ page, he was able to tell her what was going on.
“It was such a bittersweet moment. I felt so sad for this little boy and what he had gone through, but at the same time it was so wonderful to know the book had actually achieved what I’d hoped it would.”
Combatting Child Abuse
The seeds of Only for Me were planted when Michelle began hearing just how common child abuse was—with children being abused not only by adults, but also by children their own age.
One story, of a little boy who molested a boy his own age after watching pornography on his ipad, brought out the protector in Michelle. A mother of four herself, she realised she wanted to write something to teach kids how to keep themselves safe.
“I really felt that despite wanting to protect my kids innocence, I also had that responsibility as a parent to empower them with the information they needed to know, so they could protect themselves—and also know that they have a right to say no when something doesn’t feel right,” she said.
A Child-Friendly Approach
Michelle’s book is illustrated by a former Disney animator, and to make such a serious topic approachable for children, Michelle decided to write in rhyme.
“I felt it would help to engage the children before it got into the more serious detail,” she said.
The book begins with poetry about the body, such as,
These are my eyes, so sparkly and bright, for seeing and blinking and closing at night, and, This is my bottom and bits that wee, They’re very private, and only for me.
The book goes on to describe scenarios predators would use during a grooming process, to help little readers recognise unacceptable behaviour and learn how to say no. It teaches them that abusive behaviour is not their fault and that they won’t be in trouble when they tell someone about it.
It also explains that when they speak to a trusted grownup, it is then that grownup’s job to talk to the right people, and help them so they will be safe.
Only for Me includes contact numbers for Kids Helpline, and space for children to write down the names of five adults they trust. It is endorsed by the child protection organisation Act for Kids, and was written in consultation with both experts and survivors of abuse.