This book is “out of the square”, but has been both popular and controversial. It is not the norm of imaginative children’s book that I would usually review. Rather, it is a manual with both parent and children’s sections with advice about how to feel safe in an age of terrorism. It encourages children to keep doing the things they like doing, living their lives normally and not let terrorists intimidate them or put fear into them.
“Your regular terrorist therapist” author Carole Lieberman appears on the back cover in a bright pink inflatable chair, appearing to give out good advice to a teddy bear which lies alongside her, on a psychiatrist’s couch.
At first glance one feels a sense of absurdity at the subject – a book detailing for both kids and parents how to cope with anxieties generated by terrorism.
But the book is balanced enough – the point is made that children shouldn’t be scared of a terrorist attack happening to them because they are more likely to get run over in the street if they don’t look both ways than to be hurt in a terrorist attack.
There is quite a bit of detail in the manual – parents can choose to share all or some of it with children.
For example, there is mention of the Paris magazine featuring a cartoon that terrorists “got angry about” and “shot people”, as well as the Twin Towers attack, the Boston marathon bombing, the Orlando nightclub incident, London 7/7 and many other countries which have had terrorist attacks.
The children’s part of the book begins by asking youngsters to draw their own picture of what a terrorist might be. It then gives information about Osama Bin Laden, the many “fancy names” terrorists are called such as ISIS, ISIL, AI Quaeda, Daesh or lone wolf.
It states that most troubled terrorists have misinterpreted the Koran. Whether you agree with that or not is up to you. It explains what a holy war or jihad is and how terrorists believe they will be rewarded in Heaven for killing non-believers. It states that most terrorists live in the Middle East and some are called “radical Muslims” or “radical Islamists” and also defines “domestic or home-grown terrorists”.
The internet is mentioned as a source of radicalization, and that radical Muslims “may even kill other Muslims”, though it does not mention the Christian genocide carried out in the Middle East by ISIS.
The book promotes the idea of children eating their fruits and vegetables to grow strong so they can run away, if necessary, from a terrorist. Other common sense advice seems more grounded, such as getting a good 8-9 hours sleep per night, exercising and trying to do well in school, all so that they can grow up strong, become smart people who can think “out of the box”, build new things and be smart enough to get a job keeping their country safe like the paramedics, firefighters, police and F.B.I. The book emphasizes feeling safe and the many ways that first responders use to get ready to help if there is an attack.
To ignore terrorism is to leave kids in the scary position of just not knowing why parents are hiding things – perhaps compounding the fears and allowing children to imagine falsehoods In any case, parents can decide to what level they want to discuss the subject with their own children.
A page warns kids about xenophobia – fear of strangers – telling them that most Muslims are peaceful and how they should be careful to avoid assumptions. A little picture of a Muslim woman with a teddy instructs kids: “Not all Muslims are terrorists.”
The book also advises kids to become private detectives, to be watchful and alert for warning signs. Two examples given are people who are always talking about how they hate their country, for example, and packages with wires left in busy streets. “Speak up!” is the instruction given to kids.
There is ample room in the book for children to write and draw their own interpretations, thoughts and plans. For example there is space for kids to draw a picture of where they feel safe. It suggests making a safety plan in the event of a terrorist attack including where to meet (school, a friend’s house, parent’s work, home) and space with instructions to write down what your family wants you to do as part of your safety plan (may include a prayer).
Jane Fagan is a children’s librarian with a B.A. (University of Melbourne) and a Grad. Dip. Library and Info Studies (Melbourne).