Strong at the Heart: How it Feels to Heal from Sexual Abuse (http://amzn.com/0374372829) is a non-fiction collection of survivor stories from 11 people who were sexually abused. The School Library Journal recommends it for grades 9 and up, but I found it appropriate for my 8th grade classroom. At first, I added it to my bookshelf at the back of the room. I use this bookshelf to feature our school's library books for students to "try on" during class. More about this later. This is where the book sat quietly until I made a better plan.
Sometimes eighth graders want permission to read the books at the back of the room. This happens for a variety of reasons, but I think you can imagine a teen's tentativeness in picking up this particular book. "If I pick up this book," a child wonders, "will everyone judge me? What will people say?"
I chose one of the stories to read aloud to the class. You will need to look at the book for yourselves to understand the frank way that Carolyn Lehman and Laura Davis handle the difficult subject. The emphasis is on the fact that 11 survivors have begun to heal and continue to heal. It's about creating a community of people who are "strong at the heart."
I introduced the book to the class by saying something along the lines of, "This is a great book that we have in our library about surviving sexual abuse. It's not just for people who have experienced abuse firsthand. You may have a friend, a family member, even a parent or grandparent who has dealt with this. Sometimes reading about what they may be going through helps us support them."
Now, did I think that sexual abuse was unlikely among all of my students? Is that why I said what I did? No. The statistics say otherwise. Also, in giving everyone a reason to look at that book, students who had been abused could now read it without letting everyone in on something that can be private and painful for them.
I'd love to teach in a world where all of our children are safe, but I don't. This book is a healing book. It also includes a list of resources for readers who need additional support. It's good to remind students of their school guidance counselor if they need a professional to help them with personal issues.
While we are talking about books that students may be shy to read, here's a tip that I learned during a What's New in Adolescent Literature seminar. Book Sox. The same presenter who featured this book said that Book Sox are a great tool for children (or adults) who want to keep what they are reading private from the general public. They are frequently on sale at office supply stores, but if you'd like to see a link, here you are http://www.booksox.com/webstore/productgroup.aspx?grphead=BOOKSOX.
Now, you don't have to hide what you are reading from anyone, but some readers are more sensitive to their privacy. This is one way to empower them.