Black Tears by Lesley McConnell Illustrated by Pratima Sakar.

If ever there was a children’s book that needed to be written, this is it. Black Tears describes what happens to a family affected by domestic violence. The book is beautifully presented in hard-cover format by Ocean Reeve Publishing (Gold Coast). Pratima Sakar’s clear, colourful illustrations bring the text to life perfectly.

When domestic violence is a family’s reality, the children in the home can often feel that if they were better behaved, or if they achieved higher marks at school, or if they accomplished any number of other things, the situation at home might not be the way that it is. They don’t have the maturity to know that this is absolutely not the case. When a parent is violent, it is the fault of the parent, never the child. When the author introduces the domestic violence (pg 14) she ensures that the reader knows that it is not okay for a person to make a child feel frightened and sad, like Brian feels. Not now, not ever. These four words are repeated throughout the text. And they are very effective.

The abuser is Brian’s dad. He has a stressful job, working long hours with extended periods away from home. Clearly, he is not coping. Mum and Brian, and even the family dog, Arthur, are walking on eggshells when dad is home. Lesley McConnell touches on the physical responses of Brian and his mum; the fact that each is tired at the beginning of the day because the stress causes sleep to elude them – and the black (mascara) tears evident when mum has been crying. But more powerful are the emotional messages her text elicits. How can a child reconcile the love he has for his dad with the fear and hopelessness that his dad’s abuse evokes in him? Where does a child go in his heart and head when he doesn’t feel safe in the one place he should feel safe? And how can a child begin to understand adult issues when the adult perpetrators of the abuse don’t understand the issues themselves? So, Brian does what he can to keep himself safe. And he keeps the abuse a secret.

Brian does what many children do when they don’t understand the world around them. They became angry and confused. These emotions manifest in bad behaviour. Brian smashes the window with a golf ball. He tries to make sense of his father’s behaviour by comparing his reaction to it with his mother’s response to him when she is angry with him. He loves his dad but hates the angry abusive dad. Mum loves Brian but doesn’t like the angry, naughty Brian.

All bad behaviour – all behaviour – is communication. Teachers spend so much time with our children that they are often the first to recognise that something is amiss. And fortunately, Brian’s teacher sees changes in him that prompt her to question him. This illustrates yet another issue that the child is trying to deal with. Should he reveal his secret? There is often shame in being abused. What would his friends think of him if they knew what his father was doing? What would people say if they saw the house when dad had trashed it? The conflicting emotions can cause a child to be physically sick.

Brian’s dad wants to be a good husband and dad. He accepts help to learn to deal with his stress appropriately. Brian sees the changes in his dad and practices some of the same stress relieving techniques.

Black Tears is lovingly dedicated to the author’s brother Brian, who grew up with abuse in the home, in orphanages and at boys’ homes. But McConnell’s brother’s pain was not recognised by a valuing adult and he was not offered techniques that would alleviate his stress. He was not exposed to teaching that would show him a better way to live. He became a perpetrator of domestic violence and when the emotional pain became too intense, he took his life. In writing this book, McConnell seeks to show children who are living with domestic violence that they can question their reality and understand that there other ways of ‘being’. Domestic violence is not okay, not now, not ever.

This book is a very valuable resource and I will sing its praises as for as long as I have a voice.