Children's Literature in Education

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 146–167 | Cite as

‘Keep Telling Until Someone Listens’: Understanding Prevention Concepts in Children’s Picture Books Dealing with Child Sexual Abuse

  • Jo LampertEmail author
  • Kerryann Walsh
Original Paper


Children’s picture books dealing with the topic of child sexual abuse appeared in the 1980s with the aim of addressing the need for age-appropriate texts to teach sexual abuse prevention concepts and to provide support for young children who may be at risk of or have already experienced sexual abuse. Despite the apparent potential of children’s picture books to convey child sexual abuse prevention concepts, very few studies have addressed the topic of child sexual abuse in children’s literature. This article critically examines a selection of 15 picture books (published in the US, Canada and Australia) for children aged 3–8 years dealing with this theme. It makes use of an established set of evaluative criteria to conduct an audit of the books’ content and applies techniques of literary discourse analysis to explain how these picture books satisfy criteria for child sexual abuse prevention. The analysis is used as a way to understand the discourses available to readers, both adults and children, on the topic of child sexual abuse. Key themes in the books include children’s empowerment and agency, and the need for persistence and hope.


Child sexual abuse Prevention Children’s literature Literary analysis Picture books 



This research was funded by a Queensland University of Technology, Centre for Learning Innovation Collaborative Research Cluster Seeding Grant awarded to the first author. The second author declares her role in a reference group for pre-publication review of Rowley’s (2007) book Everyone’s Got a Bottom.


  1. Bakhtin, M. (1981). Unitary Language. In M. Holquist (Ed.), The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays (pp. 269–295). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  2. Berliner, L., & Elliott, D. (2002). Sexual Abuse of Children. In J. Myers, L. Berliner, J. Briere, C. Hendrix, C. Jenny, & T. Reid (Eds.), The APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment, 2nd ed (pp. 55–78). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  3. Biggs, B. (2007). Breaking Down the Taboos. Accessed June 10, 2009, from
  4. Campbell, M. (2008, May 4). Josef Fritzl: The Monster in the Cellar. The Sunday Times. Accessed April 20, 2009, from
  5. Clifton, L. (2001). One of the Problems of Everett Anderson. New York: Henry Holt.Google Scholar
  6. Dube, S.R., Anda, R.F., Whitfield, C.L., Brown, D.W., Felitti, V.J., Dong, M., & Giles, W.H. (2005). Long-Term Consequences of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Gender of Victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28(5), 430–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dunne, M.P., Purdie, D.M., Cook, M.D., Boyle, F.M., & Najman, J.M. (2003). Is Child Sexual Abuse Declining? Evidence from a Population-Based Survey of Men and Women in Australia. Child Abuse and Neglect, 27(2), 141–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Finkelhor, D. (1994). Current Information on the Scope and Nature of Child Sexual Abuse. The Future of Children, 4(2), 31–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fleming, J. (1997). Prevalence of Childhood Sexual Abuse in a Community Sample of Australian Women. Medical Journal of Australia, 166(2), 65–68.Google Scholar
  10. Freeman, L. (1982). It’s My Body: A Book to Teach Young Children How to Resist Uncomfortable Touch. Seattle, WA: Parenting Press.Google Scholar
  11. Hawkins, M. (1999). Guidelines for Programs to Reduce Child Victimization: A Resource for Communities When Choosing a Program to Teach Personal Safety to Children. Alexandria, VA: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.Google Scholar
  12. Hollindale, P. (1991). Ideology and the Children’s Book. Stroud: Thimble Press.Google Scholar
  13. Holmes, M.M. (2000). A Terrible Thing Happened. Washington, DC: Magination Press.Google Scholar
  14. Horin, A. (2007). From Top to Bottom, Book Aims to Teach Children to Own Their Bodies. Sydney Morning Herald. Accessed June 10, 2007, from
  15. Hunt, P. (2001). Children’s Literature. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  16. Iser, W. (1978). The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Jack, S.J., & Ronan, K.R. (2008). Bibliotherapy Practice and Research. School Psychology International, 29(2), 161–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jessie. (1991). Please Tell! A Child’s Story about Sexual Abuse. Center City, MN: Hazelden.Google Scholar
  19. Johnsen, K. (1986). The Trouble with Secrets. Seattle, WA: Parenting Press.Google Scholar
  20. Jones, D.A., Trundinger, P., & Crawford, M. (2004). Intelligence and Achievement of Children Referred Following Sexual Abuse. Journal of Paediatric Child Health, 40(8), 455–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kehoe, P. (1987). Something Happened and I’m Scared to Tell. Seattle, WA: Parenting Press.Google Scholar
  22. Kehoe, P. (1988). Helping Abused Children: A Book for Those who Work with Sexually Abused Children. Seattle, WA: Parenting Press Inc.Google Scholar
  23. Kendall-Tackett, K.A., Williams, L.M., & Finkelhor, D. (1993). Impact of Sexual Abuse on Children: A Review and Synthesis of Recent Empirical Studies. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 164–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kenny, M.C., Capri, V., Thakkar-Kolar, R.R., Ryan, E.E., & Runyon, M.K. (2008). Child Sexual Abuse: From Prevention to Self-Protection. Child Abuse Review, 17(1), 36–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kitzinger, J. (1990). Who are You Kidding? Children, Power, and the Struggle Against Sexual Abuse. In A. James & A. Prout (Eds.), Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood (pp. 157–183). Brighton: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  26. Kleven, S. (1997). The Right Touch: A Read-Aloud Story to Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse. Bellevue, WA: Illumination Arts.Google Scholar
  27. Kogan, S.M. (2004). Disclosing Unwanted Sexual Experiences: Results from a National Sample of Adolescent Women. Child Abuse and Neglect, 28(2), 147–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kress, G., & van Leeuwen, T. (2001). Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Kupfer, S. (2005). Sarah’s Secret. Sherwood, QLD: NooBee Publishing.Google Scholar
  30. Ledwon, P., & Mets, M. (2006). Mia’s Secret. Toronto, ON: Tundra Books.Google Scholar
  31. Macdonald, G. (2001). Effective Interventions for Child Abuse and Neglect. Chichester: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  32. May-Chahal, C., & Cawson, P. (2005). Measuring Child Maltreatment in the United Kingdom: A Study of the Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect. Child Abuse and Neglect, 29(9), 969–984.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McDaniel, C. (2001). Children’s Literature as Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. Children’s Literature in Education, 32(3), 203–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Moore-Mallinos, J. (2005). Do You Have a Secret? Hauppauge, NY: Gemser Publications.Google Scholar
  35. Nelson, E.C., Heath, A.C., Madden, P.A.F., Cooper, M.L., Dinwiddie, S.H., Bucholz, K.K., Glowinski, A., McLaughlin, T., Dunne, M.P., Statham, D.J., & Martin, N.G. (2002). Association Between Self-reported Childhood Sexual Abuse and Adverse Psychosocial Outcomes: Results from a Twin Study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59(2), 139–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nikolajeva, M., & Scott, C. (2006). How Picturebooks Work. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Patterson, S., & Feldman, J. (2004). NoNo the Little Seal. Maryborough, VIC: Innovative Resources.Google Scholar
  38. Portwood, S.G. (2006). What We Know and Don’t Know About Preventing Child Maltreatment. In Victor I. Veith, Bete L. Bottoms, & Alison R. Perona (Eds.), Ending Child Abuse: New Efforts in Prevention, Investigation, and Training (pp. 55–80). Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.Google Scholar
  39. Priebe, G., & Svedin, C.G. (2008). Child Sexual Abuse is Largely Hidden from the Adult Society: An Epidemiological Study of Adolescents’ Disclosures. Child Abuse and Neglect, 32(12), 1095–1108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Reading, N. (2004). Rosy and Jack. Bendigo, VIC: Innovative Resources.Google Scholar
  41. Riggs, S. (2007). Not in Room 204. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman.Google Scholar
  42. Rowley, T. (2007). Everyone’s Got a Bottom. Sherwood, QLD: Family Planning Queensland.Google Scholar
  43. Rudman, M. (1995). Children’s Literature: An Issues Approach. White Plains: Longman.Google Scholar
  44. Sanderson, J. (2004). Child-Focused Sexual Abuse Prevention Programs: How Effective are They in Preventing Child Abuse? Crime and Misconduct Commission Research and Issues Paper, 5.Google Scholar
  45. Saxby, M. (1993). The Proof of the Puddin’: Australian Children’s Literature 1970–1990. Sydney: Ashton Scholastic.Google Scholar
  46. Sendak, M. (1971). In the Night Kitchen. London: Bodley Head.Google Scholar
  47. Smith, D.W., Letourneau, E.J., Saunders, B.E., Kilpatrick, B.E., Resnick, H.S., & Best, C.L. (2000). Delay in Disclosure of Childhood Rape: Results from a National Survey. Child Abuse and Neglect, 24(2), 273–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Smith-D’Arezzo, W.M., & Thompson, S. (2006). Topics of Stress and Abuse in Picture Books for Children. Children’s Literature in Education, 37(4), 335–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Spelman, C. (1997). Your Body Belongs to You. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman.Google Scholar
  50. Stephens, J. (1992). Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction. New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  51. Taylor, P., Moore, P., Pezzullo, L., et al. (2008). The Cost of Child Abuse in Australia. Melbourne, VIC: Access Economics, Australian Childhood Foundation, and Child Abuse Prevention Research Australia.Google Scholar
  52. Trickett, P.K., Horowitz, L., Reiffman, A., & Putnam, F.W. (1997). Characteristics of Sexual Abuse Trauma and the Prediction of Developmental Outcomes. In D. Cicchetti & S.L. Toth (Eds.), Rochester Symposium on Developmental Psychopathology. Volume VIII: The Effects of Trauma on the Developmental Process (pp. 289–314). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.Google Scholar
  53. Tutty, L.M. (1997). Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Programs: Evaluating “Who Do You Tell?”. Child Abuse and Neglect, 21(9), 869–881.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Watson, V. (1992). The Possibilities of Children’s Fiction. In M. Styles, E. Bearne, & V. Watson (Eds.), After Alice: Exploring Children’s Literature. London: Cassell.Google Scholar
  55. Weinreich, T. (2000). Children’s Literature: Art or Pedagogy? Copenhagen: Roskilde University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Zipes, J. (2001). Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children’s Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Learning Innovation, Faculty of EducationQueensland University of TechnologyKelvin GroveAustralia

Personalised recommendations