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Interview: Rosalind Harrison talks about My Body My Taonga

Rosalind Harrison is a Waikato-based mum whose writing of short stories, articles and poetry has been published in Mindfood Magazine and local newspapers. My Body My Taonga is her first children’s picture book. The concept of writing an educational story for young tamariki took place following a friend’s disclosure of childhood sexual abuse. Throughout the writing process, Rosalind liaised with and gained support from experts in child development, child safety and survivors of sexual abuse. Rosalind’s mission is to educate for prevention. Rosalind talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about My Body My Taonga.

Two young friends, Rāwiri and Ruby, have a kōrero about body safety and take readers on a learning journey with them. Tamariki learn the power of instincts, how to spot unsafe behaviour and most importantly, learn how to get help should they ever need to. The getting help strategy of ‘Stop, Walk and Talk’ is consistent with the ‘Keeping Ourselves Safe’ programme for Schools in Aotearoa. The aim of the story is for children to understand what privacy and body boundaries are and for kids to recognise who they could turn to about anything, anytime, always (knowing who their trusted adults are).

Key types of unsafe behaviour such as bribes and unsafe secrets are explained in a way that kids understand with clarity and sensitivity using child friendly language. It’s incredibly important that these topics are included as these are often the reasons that prevent children from disclosing or can delay a disclosure. My Body My Taonga was written to make body safety conversations much easier for families and educators to navigate. The aim is for parents, educators and tamariki to feel empowered and confident when learning the life skill of body safety, as knowledge is the best form of prevention.

What inspired you to write this book?

A few years ago I had someone close to me disclose of childhood sexual abuse, it was absolutely devastating to learn of this. Following on from this, I researched New Zealand’s sexual abuse statistics, consulted with psychologists, organisations and further survivors. Sexual abuse affects so many people in so many communities. I have had the most wonderful people in my own network be so courageous to share their journeys with me. These people show a true representation of how no child is ever immune to sexual abuse, they are my friends, my relatives, my co-workers, former flatmates both male and female. All of whom are from all walks of life and have felt compelled to korero in the hope of increasing prevention awareness. These incredible people continue to inspire me.

What research was involved?

I liaised with the wonderful Dr Emma Woodward (child psychologist and Mum of 4), Kathryn McPhillips (Executive Director at HELP Auckland), NZ Police (Schools Coordinator), Maggy Tai Rākena (Registered Social Worker, Manager at START), Dr Kathie Rifle (Māori Education and Cultural Consultant) and many other organisations and individuals throughout the writing process. I researched sexual abuse trends and statistics however, I don’t believe these will ever capture a true representation of child sexual abuse in New Zealand. Many tamariki will never disclose, some may disclose when they’re an adult, others disclose yet nothing is done. The research was horrifying at times and was the ultimate driving force to do better for tamariki and our communities.

What was your routine or process when writing this book, and how did you work with the illustrator?

I work part time and as a Mum of two, there wasn’t so much of a routine (I wish there had been!). In life's chaos the most structure I could adhere to was evening writing which meant more than a few late nights. I approached Janice Marriott to assess my manuscript and she provided her invaluable expertise and motivation. I sent the manuscript to a cohort of people including survivors and received feedback and an overwhelming response of support. The manuscript was sent to a few publishers but the response was disheartening, no one wanted to publish a book about body safety and sexual abuse prevention. Lack of awareness and education is a part of the reason why childhood sexual abuse continues.

Not yet discouraged, armed with my character's attitude of ‘kia kaha’ I decided to self publish via Nelson based The Copy Press printers. I’m so grateful for their phenomenal team. Suzanne Simpson is the incredible illustrator of My Body My Taonga. Suzanne understood the importance of creating two confident, empowering characters that show mana, friendship and a little humour throughout the story. Suzanne embraced the topic of body safety and has given such brightness to each page making readers feel more capable and at ease when learning this life skill. I am so pleased to have worked with Suzanne.

What did you enjoy the most about writing My Body My Taonga?

Getting to know the absolute heroes of our communities, survivors, educators, prevention teams, counselors and many more. The amazing people that dedicate their professional and often personal lives (in roles that no doubt leave scars on one's soul), for the purpose of protecting our tamariki.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I met with family and friends for coffee and cake at a local cafe (this may have included some celebratory emotional tears).

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Goodness, just one. Gulp. I love Charity Norman and this was actually a re-read of her 2015 novel The Secret Life of Luke Livingstone because it is just so good! I have such respect for the way in which the author carefully and empathetically tells such a life changing and emotional story.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m currently writing a (non-educational) picture book based on a girl and an adventurous egg.


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