"It is not something I want to do, it is something I feel I have to do," said Nancy Goode Talalas, a Savin Hill resident and author of a children's book titled "My Private Places." The book is meant to educate children about their bodies and give them the knowledge they need to be empowered against sexual predators.
"The book really just tries to get kids to tune into their feelings, and let them know it is okay to trust their instincts and to act based on how they feel if things don't seem right," Talalas said.
The book describes private places as the places “your bathing suit covers.” It handles topics like special secrets and other common predatory approaches and encourages children to trust their instincts, without frightening them.
The book’s message has been endorsed by parents, social workers, and youth education professionals like YMCA Director Kirk Smith and Child Sexual Abuse Advocate Kathy Picard. Most recently, the Boston City Council welcomed Talalas and local kids who appeared in a video she produced on the same topic to a special reception at City Hall.
Talalas first penned 'My Private Places' fourteen years ago as her son was turning four.
"He is my first child. He is a big part of my world. As I was sending him to school for the first time I realized I was handing him over to someone I really didn’t know,” said Talalas. “I wanted to empower him without scaring the bejeezus out of him, so I wrote and illustrated a children's book and filled it with things I knew that he would like, for instance the birds in each picture."
Talalas began sharing the book with other mothers and received positive support. She spread the message of the book throughout the youth groups she worked with, but when the Jerry Sandusky-Penn State scandal came to light, Talalas was encouraged to spread her message further.
"My husband came to me and said, 'You have got to do something, publish the book yourself.' He was furious, as was everyone who heard the news," said Talalas. "My goal was to make the book free. So I found a website that would let people download it for free. It has been up for about a year and it has almost 25,000 views now."
Still, Talalas was compelled to do more.
"I wanted to turn the book into a kind of public service announcement, so what I did was make a Youtube video with kids of all backgrounds and kids with disabilities represented," said Talalas.
The children in the video energetically recite lines from the book. Some appear dressed as iconic superheroes. The kids in the video came to Talalas through her connections with youth group leaders and her volunteer work with the Girls and Boy Scouts.
Recently, Talalas wanted the kids in the video to receive recognition of their talent and the leadership role they took on.
"They are leaders as far as I am concerned. I wanted to do something for them and acknowledge them. I approached City Councilor Frank Baker. He was amazing and immediately suggested a reception for the kids at city hall," said Talalas.
On June 25, the kids were presented with a Proclamation of Leadership award in front of an audience of their parents and grandparents.
"The video is great because you have kids giving the message to kids, and the parents are leaders themselves for allowing their kids to be in the video and address the issue publicly," said Talalas.
Tracy Ryan, a Boston Police officer and fellow Dorchester resident, allowed her daughter Kathleen to appear in the video.
"It is a difficult topic that people don't talk to their kids about, but the way Talalas has it worded in the book presented the information in such and easy going friendly way that it was not a scary topic,” says Ryan. “It is an empowering message that she gives the kids."
Thirteen year-old Kathleen Ryan appeared as Wonder Woman in the video.
"It was a good experience," said Ryan. "What I took away from it was how to respect myself and others and I think it was really helpful."
Talalas has received support for her efforts but the nature of the threat she is trying to address sometimes makes it difficult to talk to other parents about.
"Sometimes they don't want to talk about it or hear about it," said Talalas. “They have a kind of superstitious attitude about it as if talking about it will cause it to occur, but this needs to be talked about and addressed in the open that is the only way the problem is going to be solved."
Talalas has developed a lesson plan around her book that includes interactive activities and catchy songs. The hope is that one day the the lesson will be taught in the school system and that children will be taught at the earliest stage of reason, by their parents and teachers, that "their private places belong only to them."
"I want them to know that just like they know to look both ways before crossing the street,” said Talalas.