With a little help from Batman and Doug Pitt, a Springfield woman is turning her family’s pain into a way to fight child abuse and bullying.
Cindy Dennis — a relative to someone who was molested at the age of 3 — wrote and illustrated six children’s books meant to educate and empower children with tools to keep themselves safe.
“I’m not saying I’m an artist. I’m not saying I’m a writer. I am just a mom who is trying to save other families,” Dennis said, following her presentation of her “Give a Child a Voice” books at the 1 Million Cups meeting Wednesday.
The books can be purchased online for $9.95 each (eBooks are $1.99-2.99), but Dennis would rather children have access to her message for free.
And local celebrities — like Pitt, Springfield Batman, artist Gary Bedell and “Mystery Hour” host Jeff Houghton — have stepped up to help Dennis do just that by narrating the books for videos that can be viewed at no cost online at CindyLuBooks.com.
Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott narrated “Your Voice is Power,” a book Dennis wrote specifically for victims of abuse. The book encourages the child to speak up and tell a trusted adult.
“It’s about getting the kid to believe their voice is power,” he said.
Arnott endorsed Dennis’ books at the 1 Million Cups meeting, adding that Greene County has four detectives working on child abuse cases full time, and reports are taken seriously and investigated.
Dennis worked on the books for 15 years. She went back to college in her 50s, knowing that pursuing a psychology degree would give her a professional understanding of the subject matter and she would be surrounded by experts in the field.
“If you can save a child from the scars of abuse, it’s been worth it,” Dennis said. “It changed my life. I needed that degree.”
Dennis said most of her instructors at Drury University allowed her focus on child abuse and bullying in her studies. Her statistics projects focused on child abuse data. Her creative writing assignments would later appear in her books.
“Drury allowed me to make every single project about my books,” she said. “These books have been raked over by child abuse authorities in the field because every word matters.
“For instance, I used to say, ‘Someone with a bad secret could be really bad news.’ But I changed it to, ‘Someone who asks you to keep a bad secret,’ ” she explained. “If I’m a little kid and I’ve already been abused, then I have a bad secret. Wording is everything.”
Dennis said the books and videos are aimed at ages 18 months and up.
“People don’t want to talk about it. They feel awkward, and they don’t feel like they have the proper verbiage. (With the videos), you just hit play.”
About the books and videos
•“Friend Manual” is narrated by Doug Pitt and teaches kids about safety, the difference between good secrets and bad secrets, and what to do if a stranger approaches or tries to grab them.
•“Your Voice,” narrated by award-winning freelance video journalist Ed Filmer, teaches children the difference between safe touches and unsafe touches and how to tell a trusted adult if someone touches them inappropriately.
•“Your Voice is Power!” is narrated by Sheriff Jim Arnott and is for children who have been abused. It reassures the child that he or she is not alone, has done nothing wrong and encourages the child to tell a trusted adult.
•“No More Bullies in Our School or Neighborhood” is narrated by Derek Smith, the man known as Springfield Batman, and shares what a bully is and what to do if you or a friend are being bullied.
•“A Cotton Tale” is narrated by “Mystery Hour” host Jeff Houghton. It teaches about safe boundaries and the importance of staying close to home.
•“Monsters! Monsters!” is narrated by local artist Gary Bedell. This is aimed at helping children control their tempers.