Two years ago, I was summoned to attend some online safety training at the school where I work. Great, I thought. Another hour of my time taken up after a full day of teaching. I was preparing mentally to have to repeat to my students the ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ mantra. I sat through the presentation given by the Breck Foundation and it turned out to be the most world-rocking training I’ve ever experienced. This was my first experience of hearing Breck’s story.
The story hit me to my very core and I immediately wanted to find a way that I could help the charity. The presentation I had seen was part of the first training that was being delivered for special needs students. Being in special needs education I understand that there is no one way of delivering a lesson – SEN students have varying needs. After a conversation with the trainer, I came up with some initial ideas of delivering Breck’s story in a children’s book format, rather than a PowerPoint.
I was then invited to meet Breck’s mother, Lorin LaFave, and she gave me her blessing to begin creating a picture book using the Breck story for SEN students. As I researched further into the book I realised that I needed to create several different books for varying needs and ages. What has finally come out of it all is a brand new resource: three different books all focused on helping children understand about grooming and online safety.
First, there is ‘This is Breck’, a picture book for students with the mind-set age 4+.This version of the Breck story deals less with the emotions of the Breck story and more with the literal event, making it ideal for autistic children.
The sentence structure in the book is short and simple, making it accessible for early readers. The book is also being printed in A4 size, making it easier for students with physical difficulties to hold.
When it came to the illustrations for the book, I took inspiration from the English author and illustrator Shirley Hughes. I wanted the images to be as literal as possible with very little abstract within the pictures. The images needed to be able to tell the story on their own without the use of the words.
When I was introduced to the illustrator Sydney Johnson, it was clear she was a perfect match. Her beautiful watercolour artwork brought the story to life in a simple, yet effective way. She used colours to convey some of the feelings behind the images, which would help support the understanding of what was happening in the story.
‘Breck and the Online Troll’ is a picture book for students with the mind-set of age 7+. The language used within the story is simple enough for emerging and independent readers. I wanted to start to get some of the emotions that are embedded within the story of Breck’s grooming to support and develop emotional understanding.
The most important thing with this book is that I did not want the reader to feel like they were reading a book about real-life online safety at first. The word ‘troll’ had bounced around in my head from the beginning of creating this story. From this idea, I created a story of two halves: the first part, a story of knights, trolls and adventure, which then in the second half twists to real life, where images and the story show parallels to the first half.
While writing the story I had certain images in my head of what the pages could look like. When I had my first meeting with the illustrator, Eve Yarnton, she had the same vision and has delivered a fantasyland, colliding with the real world and the truth. Her graphic, comic-book style is eye-catching, powerful and emotional. The images alone are accessible enough for students to understand the story.
The book is being printed in A4, enabling those students with physical difficulties to hold them, too. The images, twisted plot of truth and lies, along with the stunning graphic-style pictures make them intriguing and fun for both autistic students and those with short attention spans.
Finally there is ‘Play Virtual. Live Real’, a play for students with the mind-set of 10+.With this play, I aimed it at students with the mind-set of 10+. The plays running time is about 15-20 minutes depending on the student’s abilities. There are very few props and actions, and the language used is as simple as possible, making it easy to read and remember lines and cues. It is perfect for a small Drama or English group, and is designed to be presented to another group or in an assembly. The idea behind this play is to educate as many people as possible.
The play, compared to the other books I have created, is much more about the feelings and reactions of people surrounding Breck, as well as delivering the tragic story of Breck. I wanted the young people to understand that it wasn’t just Breck who was affected by this tragedy but it had a devastating ripple effect on others. Equally, the play gives the audience a chance to look at times when things may have been able to be stopped, if people had known more or been educated more.
The play and both books comes with a 6-week scheme of work and worksheets to help support and consolidate learning for students.
Soon after I began the project, Lorin asked me to join the Foundation as a trustee. I was honoured and am still proud that I can help this very important charity. I have some more exciting projects for the Breck Foundation which we shall be releasing soon. Please stay tuned or if you would like to make a donation to support further projects, please look on the Breck Foundation Website www.breckfoundation.org
Breck Books Project will be published in 30th November 2020 and will be available to buy on most book online stores including Amazon, the Breck website and available for pre order from Salamander Street Publishing. To find out more please send an email to email@example.com. You can follow Mark Harrington’s projects on Facebook and Instagram at @harrington_project.