Launch of “Stella and the Secret”: “It’s a book about encouraging children to stand up for themselves”

What is the difference between a good and a bad secret? How do you say no to something you don’t want to do? Princess Madeleine does not back away from difficult topics when she makes her debut as a children’s book author with Stella and the Secret. – We must break the silence when it comes to child abuse, she says.

Princess Madeleine’s debut children’s book Stella and the Secret is based on the topic of children’s rights – an issue she has actively worked on during her years as board member of World Childhood Foundation.

At the centre of the story is Stella, a nine-year-old girl trying to adapt to her new life after the family has moved to another country. One day a new friend tells Stella a horrible secret, and says she must promise not to tell anyone.

What is Stella and the Secret about?

– It’s about a girl who moves with her family from New York to Sweden. The first part of the book revolves around the difficult process of coming to a new country, making friends and getting accustomed to the school environment. Stella faces problems and challenges, and I think many kids can recognize themselves in her situation. At the end of the day the story is about encouraging children to stand up for themselves; to find their inner strength and have the courage to say no if something doesn’t feel right.

What is the goal with the book?

– I feel that as a parent, it’s difficult to find the right moment to talk to your kids about difficult things. I hope that this book can help children, parents and teachers to find new ways to discuss topics that may otherwise be tricky to address. It’s also an introduction to more difficult areas like sexual abuse and body integrity.

– Our hope is that the book can help children find their inner strength to stand up for themselves in situations of discomfort, and show that those who fall victim to abuse are not alone. We let the main character Stella experience both good and bad secrets. Good secrets should always remain secrets, but a bad secret is too heavy for a child to carry on her own. As adults, we have to lift that responsibility off the children’s shoulders and explain that by confiding in a trustworthy adult, there will always be a solution to the problem. The child should never have to come up with these solutions on her own.

The book has evolved through collaboration. How has that process been?

– Lots of fun! We have had great teamwork, including long and creative meetings. It has mainly been through phone conferences, since we all live in different cities – and continents.

Why was it a children´s book?

– Me and Karini have been working together for several years with different projects within World Childhood Foundation. We’ve been aiming to raise awareness around sexual abuse and prevent children from getting hurt through our campaigns. But after a few years we felt like we didn’t really reach far enough, since the question always remained in the adult world. That was when we had the idea to write a children’s book that would deal with these issues while reaching the children directly. We started writing about Stella, and after that Marie helped us craft the story.

It’s a sensitive and difficult topic to write about. Why is it important to do it?

– It’s important because we need to break the silence around that fact that 1 out of 5 children are subject to violence and sexual abuse. This is happening across all levels of society, all over the world. It has been considered taboo to even discuss the topic, but I think we’re finally seeing some progress. It’s very important that we reduce the feeling of shame that is tormenting many of these children. If we can reach kids and parents with the notion that it’s ok to talk about these things – and that every child has the right to say “no” – then we have come quite far.

How and when did the passion for these issues begin to form?

– Many years ago, thanks to my mother. She founded World Childhood Foundation, and she always talked to us about her encounters when she had visited the different projects. She met many children from very difficult situations, including juvenile prisoners and street children. I could see that her commitment really made an impact, and I felt there and then that I wanted to help. That’s why I’m particularly excited now to release a book that hopefully will help address these questions further.

Will there be more books in the future?

– You never know!

Do you read to your children?

– Yes, I do – and increasingly now as they get older. Leonore is five and she thinks it’s a lot of fun to read books together. Nicolas enjoys it too. It’s a cosy and valuable moment sitting down together and getting to feel that connection. We try to read a little every day.

What is your own relation to books and reading in general?

– We have some dyslexia in our family and I found it a bit frustrating to read when I was younger. But I was helped early with battling my reading difficulties. I love reading books now.

Is there a particular book or character from your childhood that is extra memorable?

– Pippi Longstocking, obviously. Astrid Lindgren has always made an impression with me. She was ahead of her time, and her books are still as current today. I think that is quite fascinating.

Text: Elsa Sjögren, photos: Sara Friberg/ Royal Court

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