There are days when stories with perfect beginnings and perfect endings just don’t cut it at reading time- Ali Redford, author of The Boy Who Built a Wall Around Himself, wanted to write a book for her son that he would be able to relate to with his experiences of early trauma. In this blog post, Ali explains the story behind the boy who built a wall.
I wrote this book to scratch an itch. Something had been niggling away inside me since my children were very small.
As adoptive parents, my husband and I had missed out on our children’s very earliest years, which we knew had not been at all idyllic. They had previously had three different foster carers, one of whom had taken them to the library every week and encouraged a real love of stories. My boy Blue was then three and clinging on desperately to positive memories of his birth family. These included reading Peter Pan on his birth dad’s knee, which probably did more for Blue’s love of books than anything we have done since! But such good times were not the norm in his first two years.
Despite scouring Amazon and local book shops, we found few, if any, stories that seemed to acknowledge or recount anything but a perfect start in life. Even those books which recognized that early life could be traumatic often put the responsibility for any misery onto step mothers or evil adoptive uncles – really unhelpful at a time when we were trying to help our children form loving attachments! Our most useful and beloved books in those early days were probably John Burningham’s Borka, Debi Gilori’s No Matter What and The Ugly Duckling. As Blue got older he latched on to Harry Potter with a vengeance – but Harry grew up too fast, too soon for Blue and the books (which we read avidly anyway) were already too advanced to begin with. We had needed something else, something simple, with strong images that conveyed both the dark times and gave the reader a feeling of hope.
At the time I wrote The Boy Who… our family had just (reluctantly and temporarily as it turned out) finished three years of therapy at the excellent Family Futures. I was having to draw on everything I had learned about therapeutic parenting from them to help my boy through an extremely difficult last year at primary school and transition into secondary. At home, we were coping with lots of very challenging behaviour, but deep down I knew it wasn’t really my boy, but the trauma he had suffered showing itself through him. Boy is basically my boy Blue, with several pinches of salt and a light sprinkling of sugar. The character of Someone Kind is based on our wonderful Family Futures therapists, with the best of my husband and our support network thrown in. The wall metaphor just came. It should not be confused (although it may well be) with a different but equally helpful wall used by Adoption UK to demonstrate why adopted children do not always recover from the gaps in their early lives. But that’s another story!
I’m almost ashamed to say I wrote The Boy Who… in about half an hour, tweaks aside. I showed it to a few close friends before asking one of them to illustrate it for me. As the mother of one of Blue’s oldest friends, I knew Kara Simpson would understand what I was trying to say and do. She also happens to be one of the best illustrators I know. Her work on the book took considerably longer to do than mine but I’m sure everyone will agree her beautiful illustrations perfectly capture the darkness as well as the light in the story.
So there you are, that’s our little book. My itch has been scratched and if a few more traumatised children now have something they can really relate to or which helps them move on in any way, any minor discomfort of mine will have been well worth it.
Ali Redford is an adoptive parent of siblings who has worked in education, theatre and marketing. She has been through a lot of family therapy and, on a good day, seems to be coming out the other side, touch wood.
The Boy Who Built A Wall Around Himself