Shawnisha Thomas, a licensed professional counselor with a practice in Smyrna, worked with children for more than a decade before publishing her first book, “Wollie and the Wandering Repeat.”
The picture book, illustrated by C.J. Love, follows a little boy named Wollie whose happy and carefree life is turned upside down by an unnamed incident. The “wandering repeat” is the mental replay of the incident that Wollie can’t shake. It may sound dark for a children’s book, but it’s meant as a tool for parents, therapists and educators to help them kids open up about their own traumas — which Thomas says can be anything from catastrophic abuse to an experience that frightened or upset them.
“I recently became state certified for what’s called trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on children from ages 7 to 17. It’s a specific modality of treatment for children who have experienced trauma,” Thomas told Technical.ly. “That work birthed this project. There’s not a whole lot of stories that you can read in a session with your kids where they can identify themselves within this story, without it being very direct or blunt. Sometimes there are missing pieces, and we try to put them together by giving them a synopsis of what someone else experienced, not talking about their trauma in particular.”
The book is designed to be used on all therapeutic levels: Professional therapists can use it, but so can parents who want to open up a conversation about their children’s anxieties or potential unknown traumas.
Though Thomas stresses that the book is for any child dealing with trauma, she intentionally chose to have Wollie portrayed as an African American boy.
“I chose a boy specifically because they are the most marginalized when it comes to the therapeutic process,” she said. “Boys are more behavioral, they kind of mask their emotions with their behavior, so this book shows that a shift in behaviors is a symptom of trauma, or could be an indication that the child is not just being ‘ornery’ or ‘bad.’ What is this behavior a symptom of, rather than what is the child is doing that is agitating the adults around them?”
Capturing Wollie and his “wandering repeat” into images that were easy to understand without showing anything actually traumatic proved to be a challenge. Baltimore-based Love, who Thomas connected with through Instagram, was one of many illustrators she considered, and he was the one who ultimately put the vision on paper. When it came to finding a publisher, another published therapist recommended the publisher of their therapeutic workbooks, Happy Face Publishing Company, which printed the first copies of Wollie in August 2021.
Thomas’ next goal is to get the book into the hands of educators, who are often the first to notice marked behavior changed in children.
“I hope the book will be a resource that changes the way that we view children and their behaviors to become more trauma-informed and create social awareness,” Thomas said, “so we can create more of a safe space for our children to be able to talk.”