The Strange and Curious Guide to Trauma is a book for children with stories, information, amusement and pictures. It may not sound or look like it, but it’s the most political (small ‘p’), of my books.


It has been written to empower children and their significant adults with information and non-judgmental, playful ways of thinking and talking about survival, safety, threat detection and early life trauma. It makes a case for the power of knowledge and kindness to change lives. It is ‘bottom up’ science education, which goes in at those who live it, in the hope the knowledge percolates upwards. ‘Top down’ has its place but a lot of information gets jammed up and doesn’t make its way down to those who could benefit from it. I like a bit of democratic citizen science.


Ordinary Jo is the protagonist in the overarching story in the book - Baboon Tuesday, which weaves in and out of the science and brings it to life. We join Jo on what she thinks is an Ordinary Tuesday, but which turns out to be the far from it. Jo walks up The Big Hill to swing on the swing that dangles from The Big Tree. What happens to her next allows us to consider the ways our bodies keep us safe from potential threats. This plus mini-stories such as Baby Versus Lamb and A Tale of Two Carrots, illustrate the science in ways that children will see in action in the world around them.


We are shaped by and adapt to the world we are born into and experience. It sounds grand, but understanding this concept changed me and my parenting. It made me realise that the way I see the world isn’t universal and helped me to appreciate the shove up the ladder I was gifted because of my early childhood.


If you’ve parented children who have experienced early life trauma you will have endured the sorts of views that see trauma responses as nothing more than bad behaviour, bad character and basic laziness. In the book these views are held by Some People. Some people are behind with the science and say Wrong Things like: “That thing that happened to you was ages ago. You should be over it by now”. This kind of thinking demands that those who have had the worst starts in life, somehow rise out of the shame and try themselves better, contrary to the science.


Stories can sneak in and disarm us from the prejudices we have been clinging on to perhaps because they have worked for us up until now. Shared with others, they allow us to explore our inner worlds together with curiosity and build our understanding of each other and the ways we experience the world. That’s important for all of us and especially for children who have had traumatic starts in life. It is not the entire job though. Taking what we know and using it to inform the ways we raise and educate children, structure healthcare, training and family support is what really matters. As Ordinary Jo points out: “When we feel safe, us humans can go out into the world, make friends, learn stuff, have new experiences and achieve happy and satisfying lives. If we can help each other to achieve these things, it makes all of our lives better”.

The Strange and Curious Guide to Trauma, by Sally Donovan, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers is out now and available from all good book shops.


For more information visit and follow her @sallydwrites.