CLOSE TO HOME by Oralee Wachter, illustrated by Jane Aaron (Scholastic: $12.95; 48 pp.; ages 5-10).
Many parents and educators remember the celebrated “No More Secrets for Me” (Little, Brown, 1983) in which Wachter and Aaron broke ground on the tender subject of child sexual abuse. It remains an outstanding model for teaching youngsters they can say “No!”
“Close to Home” is a sequel of sorts, dealing with another unfortunate worry, abduction. As with “Secrets,” there are four stories in a friendly, large-type format with 16 crayon drawings. The point Wachter makes, and makes quite well, is that it isn’t just strangers who might lure a child from home. She creates believable scenarios where the child is inches from danger, confused by someone he or she trusts.
There’s the careless baby sitter who takes her charge on a joy ride with her boyfriend, and the creep who pretends he’s a security guard. A charming fellow invites two girls into his car. Then, in probably the most unforgivable betrayal of a trust, a divorced father tries to entice his children out of state with a trip to Disney World. What these kids have in common is their instinct that something is not right. With one exception, how they handle themselves is first-rate.
The only bothersome thing here is that all the perpetrators are male: the baby sitter’s boyfriend, the “guard,” the charmer and the ex-husband. Experts speculate that women are just as likely to be abductors as men; in fact, children may eagerly be baited by a female. To most, a mother figure is nurturing, loving and safe, whereas men are often stereotyped into enforcer roles, stern and strong.
“Close to Home” would have been the perfect chance to alert youngsters of this deception. Even so, Wachter’s stories are liaisons to help adults broach the subject without a drum roll and allow kids to see peers making smart choices.