Magnificat student pens and paints children’s book about domestic violence
By Sue Botos
Most people would not consider domestic violence as a subject for a children’s book. But Magnificat High School senior Tara Coury felt this story needed to be told from a child’s view.
Coury, 17, of Bay Village, combined her talents as a writer and artist to create “The Safe House,” the recently published fictional story of a family making the transition from an abusive situation to a better life. She said that her book and accompanying illustrations were inspired by her volunteer work at the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center in Cleveland. The center is the result of the merger between the Domestic Violence Center and the Bellflower Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse.
Since her freshman year at Magnificat, when she was stirred by a presentation from Tim Boehnlein, associate director of the center, Coury has volunteered at DVCAC, mostly with children. She started a youth group, currently serving as a youth advocate, and does art therapy.
“A lot of the books we read to the kids deal with violence, but there was nothing really geared towards kids,” Coury said in a recent interview. She added that she wanted to help give hope to the children in the shelter.
The result was “The Safe House,” a story aimed at 4- to 8-year-olds. “It covers the journey of what it’s like to be in a family experiencing domestic violence and their transfer to shelter life,” explained the author.
Coury said that the characters in the book were a combination of people she met at the shelter, and extensive research of psychological issues faced by the victims of domestic violence such as posttraumatic stress disorder.
“A lot of the kids at the shelter express feelings and experiences in the book,” she said, adding, “You can see the kids acting in a certain way as a result of the violence, which is usually always directed at the mom.”
The family depicted in “The Safe House” is typical of those Coury works with, consisting of a mother with a young son, daughter and baby. “The women who come in are often pregnant and usually have more than one child,” recalled Coury.
The girls in these families, said Coury, are often maternal toward their younger siblings and even their mothers, while boys often mirror their father’s aggression, or act protective toward their family.
In general, Coury said the families are tight-knit and supportive of one another. “It’s surprising the kids are so happy and upbeat. It’s the nature of kids to brush things off and keep going,” she continued, illustrating her point by recalling a test reading of her book at the shelter.
“Afterwards, we drew pictures of our families, and I drew my sisters and me,” said Coury. She recalled a 7-year-old boy who matter-of-factly explained his picture of his mom being beaten by her boyfriend.
“Afterwards, the other kids just went back to their discussion,” she said.
A fan of Edgar Allen Poe, Coury said that her family felt the book was too dark for children after an initial reading. However, shelter workers encouraged her not to change a thing. “They said it was honest,” said Coury.
Finding a publisher can be a challenge for a new author, but Coury felt that the process was “easier than I thought.” Through a family friend, she was able to find editor Dustin Kline, who donated his time to the project. Eventually, the book was published by Smart Business Network.
Coury has been painting for about ten years, studying with Nancy Cintron at the Beck Center in Lakewood. She said she has been writing “forever”, discovering creative writing at three-week summer camp at Columbia University in New York. Coury hopes to attend Barnard College, a womens’ college affiliated with Columbia, as an English and art major.
To other aspiring authors, Coury gives this advice, “Go for it. Don’t let stigmas or your own fears stop you.”
“The Safe House” is available at the Magnificat High School bookstore and Amazon.com. for $20. All proceeds go to the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center.