Stranger Danger is something we all have to speak to our children about. Like what do we mean by a stranger, and what kind of strangers should you approach if you're lost? There are links and a couple of videos in one of our previous blog posts - Stranger Danger - keeping our kids safe. Teena has written an excellent and fun picture book on this topic 'Jimbo! Don't Go!', suitable for children aged 4 to 12.
I grew up in Fremantle surrounded by an extended family of natural storytellers. As a child I loved listening to the stories my parents and English and Italian grandparents told me about their lives. From the time I learnt to read and discovered the magical world of make believe, I knew I wanted to be a writer. However, it wasn't until I had my son that I thought of writing children's books. Because I was so addicted to reading, I read him stories and poetry from the time he was a few months old. When I wasn't reading to him, I was telling him stories. Once his two sisters arrived on the scene, the three of them inspired so many ideas that I was always either writing a story or thinking about one. There were a lot of burnt dinners in those days! At first I didn't have much success finding publishers for my children's books so I decided to write articles for magazines and I soon found myself with a successful career as a journalist. Eventually I became editor of the local newspaper. Interestingly, when I was in high school, journalism was suggested as a career option for me and I dismissed it on the grounds it would be too boring. It actually suited me very well because I love meeting and talking to people, no two days were the same and I got to work with words. I'm now retired and having a wonderful time writing stories, poems and novels, reading of course, and dabbling in a bit of art, purely for the fun of it. I live near the beach south of Perth with my lovely husband, a retired newspaper photographer. Our children now have children of their own and we have lots of family time together.
Question 2. Why did you write "Jimbo! Don't Go!"? What gave you the idea to write about stranger danger?
When my children were in primary school, the P&C Association arranged for a community policing officer to come along to the school and present a talk for parents on how to make their children aware of stranger danger. At the time I was doing some freelance journalism so I took notes for a newspaper article, which later appeared in The West Australian. I never set out to write a stranger danger picture book, even though I'd been writing stories and poems for children for about 10 years and some had been published. A few days after the talk, I woke with the first few lines of Jimbo's story running through my mind. I spent the next two days jotting down lines on scraps of paper as they came to mind, in between all the everyday activities of being a mum. It was 1981 and my children were aged three, eight and ten. As with anything I write in rhyme, I didn't start at the beginning and work through to the end. I wrote random bits from anywhere in the story and when I thought I had enough, I sorted them in order at the kitchen bench, saw where I had a few gaps and worked out how to fill them. Eighteen months later I found a publisher for the story, which was called You Don't Know Me? and when it was released I was famous for about five minutes because of the topic. One afternoon we even had TV cameras come to the house and film our family for a news segment about the book, which was rather exciting. After a while the book went out of print, but I continued to read it during my visits to schools and libraries as a guest author. Many parents, teachers and children wanted to know where they could buy a copy and I had to tell them they couldn't because it was no longer available. In 2008 I decided to do something about that and teamed up with my friend, artist Veronica Rooke, to create Jimbo! Don't Go! It's the same story, only shorter and with Veronica's wonderful new illustrations.
I never sat down with my children with the express intention of warning them that some strangers could be dangerous. It was a safety message presented as part of everyday life, such as reminders to look both ways before crossing the street, never play with matches and not dive into shallow water. Children can be uncertain what we mean by the term 'stranger' so that does need to be explained, and we also need to explain that sometimes people can pretend to be friends, as Tiger Tim does in Jimbo! Don't Go! If you spend a lot of time talking with your children and discussing all sorts of issues, stranger danger can come up quite naturally in conversation. You can also do some role play and let them act out what to do if someone they don't know asks for help to find a lost dog or says Mum and Dad is in trouble and waiting at the hospital. The most important thing, I think, is that our children need to feel able to talk to us about anything and comfortable about raising any concerns over someone's behaviour towards them.
Question 4. How often should parents talk about stranger danger to their children?
When I was growing up my Mum was always reminding me not to go with strangers. She'd had a bad experience as a teenager, accepting a lift with someone she didn't know when she was late for work and worried about losing her job. When she realised it had been a bad decision, she jumped out of the moving car. Consequently, I never went anywhere without being warned to be careful and was never allowed to have sleepovers with friends or go away on holidays with the family who lived next door in case I came to harm. I do understand where Mum's safety concerns came from but as a result I was over fearful of the world outside our front door during my childhood and teens. So while we do need to let our children know some people aren't to be trusted, we also need to reassure them that most people mean well. Parents know their own children better than anyone else and every child is different. Children who are natural risk takers will need more frequent reminders. So basically, it depends on the child. My policy with my children was always to answer questions and address concerns honestly and keep the communication lines open. I also kept a close watch on who they were with and what they were doing even when they thought they weren't being supervised.
Yes, I am always writing books of one kind or another. At present I'm working on a romance and a young adult thriller. My most recent publication is an early reader called Best Beast about a girl who wishes for a pet and gets more than she asked for, and my next book, a chapter book for young readers called Bumblefoot, is due for release in November. All the details about my books are on my website at http://www.teenaraffamulligan.com
Question 6. Did you always want to be an Author?
I've been writing stories for as long as I can remember. Books opened a window into exciting worlds of imagination for me and from the time I was just a kid in primary school I knew I wanted to be a writer. In those days I also wanted to be a famous ballerina and my plan was to write novels in the dressing room at the theatre between performances.
Question 7. Did you have a favourite book as a child?
I read everything I could get my hands on. Our school 'library' was a single book case in one of the classrooms and I'd soon read every book they had. I was thrilled when our teachers started taking us by bus on fortnightly visits to the children's section of the Evan Davies Civic Library in Fremantle to borrow books. Being let loose among all the books was like being in Wonderland. I loved all the Secret Seven and Famous Five books by Enid Blyton; all of E Nesbitt's titles including The Railway Children and Five Children and It; everything by Elizabeth Goudge; What Katy Did and What Katy Did Next; Pollyanna; Black Beauty; fairy tales and fantasies. I didn't have many books of my own at home, however Dad had a set of Richards Topical Encyclopaedia and my brother and I loved reading those.
Question 8. Will we see some more picture books from you?
In November last year I had a new picture book released by West Australian publisher Wild Eyed Press. It's called True Blue Amigos and it's about Blue the kangaroo and her mate, a chihuahua called Pedro, who travel around Australia to find a place to call home. The theme is friendship and belonging, and it's a real feel-good tale. Other picture books I've had published over the years are Who Dresses God?, which was inspired by a question my younger daughter asked when she was about four; Grandpa Goes to Mars and Big Nanna, Little Nanna, which are both now out of print; and Jessica's Dazzling Do-athon, an inclusion story published by Therapy Focus with illustrations from children around the State. I do have a number of other picture book manuscripts out and about at publishers, waiting for decisions. In recent years I've mainly been writing books for older readers, however picture books will always be my first love.
Jimbo! Don't Go! is available from our online store.
Elephants never forget - or do they?
One rainy day Jumbo Jim is on his way home from school alone when a tiger stops and offers him a lift. Tim promises to get him home and dry quicker than a snake can blink an eye - but Jimbo says no.
Mum has told him never to go with stranger. That's when Tiger Tim says he is a family friend - and he has chocolate, too. Will Jimbo remember his mother's stranger danger warnings - or go with Tim?
Jimbo! Don't Go! is a 16 page full colour paperback picture book with a glossy wipe-clean cover. Told in rollicking rhyme, it presents the stranger danger message for pre-schoolers and junior primary children in an entertaining, non-threatening style.