Purchase If You Touch, I’ll Tell
Dr. Shamina Aubuchon is the author of the best-selling children’s book, If You Touch, I’ll Tell. The book is a very important alarm system for children so they can protect themselves against predators. It teaches them about the potential danger and harm that threatens them every day. Dr. Aubuchon believes that prevention is better than a cure, especially when it comes to sexual abuse. Her book teaches children how to use their voice power to deactivate predators. Dr. Aubuchon holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences with a focus in Immunology from Eastern Virginia Medical School. A survivor of child sexual abuse, she is an advocate and voice for children who face those horrific and traumatizing situations. She knew it was her purpose to write this book, and I am so glad that she took the time to sit down and speak with me. I hope you enjoy our interview.
Joe: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me! I have your book right here, If You Touch, I’ll Tell. This is one of the most impactful children’s books I’ve ever read, and I’d like to start with a broad but important question – that is, what inspired you to write it?
Shamina: Well that’s a great question. To start, I was so tired of all the stories I was hearing. A couple of years ago when I started telling my story of surviving child sexual abuse, others started sharing their stories as well. People we’re saying, “me too”. It became like, almost every other person I knew had their own story of surviving abuse. I realized how serious the problem is, and that it is getting worse. So, I decided to put pen to paper and just get writing.
Joe: It’s both fascinating and horrible that so many people have this shared experience. And it’s something that is so hard to talk about. But something like a children’s book, in my mind, really gets the conversation going – especially for something that is so difficult and heavy to discuss.
So when did you decide that you were going to start the powerful project that became this book?
Shamina: In 2021, one of my good friends – who has two daughters (9 and 13) – spoke with me. She let me know that the 9 year old confided in her that she has been abused for the last 2 years. That means she was abused since she was 7 years old. She called me on the phone, and she was hysterical. I couldn’t even understand what she was saying. Now, her daughter is like my child. It hit so close to home, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So I went back to a draft/concept that I had worked through years ago and decided that this was it. I was going to finally write this book.
It took me from about November to December to get pen to paper and then the book was released in May. It was a really rigorous process with illustrating the book and I will say that my illustrator was absolutely amazing. Mariia Luzina. She’s amazing. She’s a magician when it comes to illustrations. We wanted the illustrations to match the words and tell the story. We worked on that from December all the way until April. Part of the problem was that Mariia is Ukrainian and lives in Ukraine. So when the war started, we almost had to cancel the project. But she was so determined to get it done and get this book out in the world. She wanted so badly to create this book for the children. And she would be working on it when she heard war sirens. So her passion matched mine.
Joe: Now you mentioned that you had it written out for a while. So was the book always so poetic? Or did you have to go back and add those rhymes?
Shamina: I started drafting the poem version in 2016! I was pregnant and found out that I was having a daughter. When I learned that, I lost it. Looking back at my childhood trauma being abused, I thought I was fine. I thought I was healed. But when I learned that I would have a daughter in my care, everything changed. Not that little boys don’t get abused, because they obviously do as well. But the thought of having a daughter really affected me and I just started to write and cope with poetry.
Joe: Going into some of the book’s content… These topics are difficult to discuss with children, but are profoundly important. Do you have any advice for parents/guardians/or educators who want to have discussions about inappropriate touching – but don’t quite know how to approach it?
Shamina: Great question. For parents and guardians, I would say start while your child is young. As you talk to them, you can tell them how to be protective of their bodies. Especially at the preschool age, it’s so important to start talking about this. But if you are having a hard time starting the conversation, start with a book like mine! Books with pretty colors and rhymes make it a lot easier to talk about this stuff. It’s like a muscle. The more you talk about it, the easier it gets. So, talking about this when a child is very young makes a big difference. The child will ask questions based on their mental state. Teachers can also talk about this if they notice troubling signs in the children they teach. We should really try our hardest to everything we can to equip children with resources to protect their precious bodies. There are also great websites out there! One I really like is called Kids First Inc.
It teaches children about inappropriate touching but does not use the “bad touch / good touch” concept.
Joe: That’s what makes your book so great. It makes it really easy for both kids and adults to understand this incredibly heavy topic. The way it is coupled with illustrations and rhymes, it’s perfect. Because listen, people are afraid to have these conversations. But your book makes it so much easier and that makes an incredible difference and can save lives. And what really stands out about your book is its value for adults. I don’t have any kids but maybe one day I will, and there is so much valuable information in here for adults to learn so they could protect their kids from this horrible thing.
Do you have any advice for parents/guardians/or educators who want to have discussions about inappropriate touching – but don’t quite know how to approach it?
Shamina: I have two big messages. One, as a trusted adult, you have to be the voice. Until your child has developed their voice, you have to advocate for them. A predator won’t touch a child whose parent is so vocal. So, be the voice.
And then, we should be very careful that we don’t tell children we will hurt those who touch them. Almost always, the people who touch children are those who children know. If a child thinks someone who is close with them – or even family – is going to get hurt or go to jail, then a child may not tell. That’s why it is so important to make sure children don’t think those who touch will get hurt. We don’t want to say anything that would prevent them from telling.
Joe: That is really important information to share.
I learned a lot when reading the book. But something that really stood out to me was your emphasis on family members – and how they “can be naughty too”, as the book says. Growing up, I always understood “stranger danger”, but I never was taught that family could present danger as well. Can you talk about how family members could also betray children like this? How common is it? What can children do to protect themselves?
Shamina: My abuser was my own father. He was my biological father. Predators are people who have access to your child. Most times, strangers don’t do this. When reporting to authorities, 90% of children say that they know their predator. Almost every predator reported is either a family member, or someone who is very close with the child and their family. To make matters worse, 55% of abuse is reported at home or near home. Parents have to remember that we give adults a lot of trust – and we teach children to automatically trust these adults. We always say, “listen to your teacher..”, “listen to your coach..”, of course, we mean well. Most of these people have good intentions. But for the few who do not, we have to rephrase our thinking. We don’t want children to always think they need to do as they are told, because a predator doesn’t have a certain look. A predator could be anyone, even a family member or friend.
Joe: Empowering children is the most important thing. We need to rethink the people we once unconditionally viewed as leaders. We need to teach children to advocate for themselves and that sometimes it is important to question those in authority figures. A lot of it comes down to what you discuss as worthiness.
When reading the book, I was really touched by your themes of worthiness. Children are worthy of being protected. Can you talk about how you think about a child’s worth and how it manifested into the writing of this story?
Shamina: I believe that children are gifts from God. I have two children of my own. They teach the best lessons; they are selfless and kind. If more leaders and politicians had the mindset of children, the world would be such a better place. They are so pure. I don’t know how someone could look at a child and have ill intentions in their mind. One of the hardest things I had to do when writing the book is go back to my life when I was 10 years old and revisit what it was like to be abused. In my head, I was just so confused why this was happening to me. I knew it was wrong, despite what my dad said. But knowing your worth takes work. I know that children are special. They’re the best thing about the planet. They need to be saved and protected at all costs. I wish I had someone who showed me my worth when I was young. Because it isn’t easy to know at such a young age.
Joe: Children are so innocent and so vulnerable, and think that’s why your work is so important that will save lives and change lives. Beyond the writing, one thing I love about your book is how interactive it is. Can you share the significance of the badges and poster in the book?
Shamina: I really would have loved to have these metal pins – but that will come eventually. Anyway, think about thieves in neighborhoods. If every house has something outside that says “Protected by X”, the thief is unlikely to rob those houses. Thieves want to rob houses that are vulnerable. My vision is to have children around the world with a badge that says, “if you touch, I’ll tell”. These kids are educated about inappropriate touching, and will tell if anyone attempts to touch their sacred bodies. Predators are much less likely to harm children who have this voice power and strength to tell, no matter what. I know firsthand, as a survivor, that is enough to scare off a predator. A predator’s biggest fear is being caught. They don’t want their secret to get out. The badges are a sign that shows this child knows about inappropriate touching, and will tell.
The poster will help parents who have a hard time talking about this. It’s a useful tool to help explain these sensitive topics with helpful visual keys so children could understand their bodies. All of this knowledge is powerful enough to scare off predators.
I remember when I was 10, I wanted to tell my mom so bad. But it took me 4 years to find my voice. I look back and think about what would have made it easier for me to talk about what I was experiencing. If I had a posted to point to and explain what was happening, it would have helped me so much. Because when you’re that young, sometimes you just can’t come up with the words alone.
Joe: Some parents, I imagine, just don’t want to scare their kids. But when I read this book, I really think about something you said – prevention is more important than a cure. Although this is not something that’s easy to talk about, having children know they have voice power is the best prevention. For me, despite how hard it can be to talk about this horrible reality with kids, prevention is far better than anything happening to them. Keeping them safe is what matters. Even if they never face a situation of abuse, prevention is still necessary!
Shamina: Just to add to that, one of the things I did at the beginning of the book, I talked to parents about what grooming is. A lot of times, predators will do these things to children in front of parents so they could build trust. So, I list out all of the inappropriate things that parents should be aware of – and what they should do in response to those things. I really hope that no child ever has to use the poster. But there is no cure. I’m almost 42 years old and am still going to therapy. The best way to describe the trauma is like watching a horror movie that keeps you up all night. That movie is always playing in the back of my mind. It never goes away. Why would you want your child to go through that? Every child needs to be equipped with the proper tools to prevent it.
Joe: I agree. That’s what I say to parents. Why have that possibility? It’s best to prevent this horror so no child ever has to live with that. I would love for this book to be read in classrooms. Have you had the chance to go into any schools and share this yet?
Shamina: So, I have not because sometimes it is a challenge with different laws that determine what can be read to kids in the classroom. I’ve spoken to some people in different school districts, and all are a bit hesitant since some can view it politically. Hopefully one day it will happen, especially with Aaron’s Law. However, an anonymous donor bought some books and brought them to Dominica (where I was born) and sent me video of the reading and I almost cried. All of the children were so engaged with the reading, and I saw them building their voice power. It was so amazing! I’ll have to send you a clip.
Joe: I do have some technical questions for you as an author. What was the process like to create a children’s book? Can you just talk about the entire process of writing, working with an illustrator, and creating such a vibrant book?
Shamina: The first thing I’d say to any author is to first set a time – when are you going to write? For me, my writing happened at night after I put the kids to bed. The house was quiet, and I got some snacks. All I’d do is put pen to paper. Just start writing. Everything else comes later. Since I was writing a poem, sometimes the rhymes didn’t work right away. But I still wrote them down, and then later on I would have “aha!” moments and found the right rhyme to put in there. So, don’t try to fix things as you go, just get it all out there first. Then, when it is there, come back and the right words will come. It’s going to come to you! I found my illustrator, Mariia, on Upwork. Working with Mariia, like I said, was amazing. For authors, I know it is your book, but let your illustrator give you advice. It’s a give and take process. There were many times when Mariia actually had the better idea! Listening to her feedback honestly really helped uplift my work. She brought this book to life – especially the cover, which is my daughter by the way. I asked to do what she would do if a predator was near, and she yelled. Mariia then illustrated her beautifully, and added the bow in her hair to symbolize sexual abuse awareness. She then shared such valuable insight to make the cover stand out. For example, she said, let’s make “Tell” really big! Listening to her feedback allowed this project to go from good to great.
Joe: Everything about the book is perfectly done. I’m wondering now, did you learn anything about yourself from writing this book?
Shamina: Oh yes I did! One thing is that I learned I’m very strong. I always knew I was strong, but this took so much strength. I had to go back and re-live some of my most horrifying memories to tell this story. This allowed the story to be so true, authentic, and accurate to what children have to go through when facing abuse. I also learned perspective. I learned that so many people have worse stories than me. I heard so many devastating stories and it broke my heart. Compared to others, I didn’t have it that bad. I also learned that this is my calling. I was born to talk to children about this problem and to bring awareness to it. My voice grew so much during the process. The book has helped me become so much more vocal and resourceful. Being a first time author, I had to take it one day at a time and learn on the fly! It was not an easy process, but I just kept at it until the project was complete. I definitely found my calling, and learned that I’m very strong.
Joe: I love hearing from authors like you and getting insight into what they learn about themselves when writing a book – everyone has something different to say and it’s so fascinating to hear about these different perspectives. So, have you heard back from readers yet? Gotten any feedback?
Shamina: So much. People talk about the quality of the book, and its simplicity and power. Also, someone told me that “the little girl in me thanks you for this book”. It’s been powerful to hear from survivors who read it, because it made such a big difference for them. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and moving.
Joe: Do you have a message for your readers – both kids and adults?
Shamina: The biggest message is that the predator’s power is in our silence, so speak up. Voice power is everything.
Joe: Well you’ve had such amazing success early for your book, and I’m wondering what’s next? Any future projects?
Shamina: I can’t stop thinking about what I want to do next. I want to keep bringing awareness to the topic, and continue with speaking engagements to share this important message. But I also definitely want to write another book. I’ve already started thinking about it. But this time I want to write a book for adults. The book would focus more on people who have children in their care and what they can do to protect them.
Joe: This sounds like an amazing book, and one that is really necessary. This is the last thing that parents want to think about, but they have to in order to protect their children and prevent them from being in harm’s way. This work sounds like an amazing opportunity to send that message. And I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. This was an amazing conversation and I’m just so happy for the early success you’ve seen with your book. Thank you so much for taking the time and remember that you can purchase If You Touch, I’ll Tell on BookBaby Bookshop, or anywhere else that you purchase books. It’s a necessary tool to protect children. I can’t say enough good things about it.
Shamina: Thank you! It’s been my pleasure.