Fighting Childhood Fear and Trauma with Books and Art

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When I started writing THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, all I had was a small idea about a boy waking up alone on a beach. I didn’t know what drove this boy or why his story had come to me, but when I got to the final scene, I understood both what the boy was looking for and why it was a story I wanted to tell—the boy’s struggles were my own.

Like many kids, I found much of my childhood challenging. First day of school, making new friends, even being called on in class brought anxiety. I wanted to be the best version of myself and wanted others to like me, but I had all these thoughts swirling around in my head telling me I wasn’t enough, that I’d fail or embarrass myself. Staying invisible seemed like the best course of action.

I couldn’t stay invisible forever, however, so as I grew up, I learnt a few things about believing in myself and quieting the bully in my brain. Many of them I learned from books. All of them I still use today, because that mean voice in my head is hard to silence completely.

That’s why THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST meant so much to me while I was writing it, and means even more now. When I was a kid with a bully in my head, characters in books helped me find strength and taught me ways to be more confident, and I wanted to give kids the same thing. So after the book sold to Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, I knew I wanted to create a program that could help other kids who are held back by fear and anxiety—a way for kids to learn how to “Make Your Own Courage,” like the boy in the book.

To do this, I turned to my amazing friend Kirsten Cappy of Curious City (, and she, of course, knew the perfect person to help. Kirsten introduced me to Bonnie Thomas, LCSW (, an author and clinical therapist with experience in art therapy.

I was introduced to the power of art therapy when I was a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, when I covered a gallery exhibit of paintings by children who had been through the war in Croatia. The images were stunning, but even more amazing were their stories of healing. Through art—whether it’s drawing, painting, writing, or whatever form of creation that’s speaks to them—a child can more easily express the horrifying emotions they are feeling.

The boy in THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST uses stories to help him be brave, so I knew that art therapy would be perfect for the Make Your Own Courage project. After Bonnie read THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, she thought so too.

“Children’s literature and stories have always provided rich material for exploring life’s experiences.  In this regard, stories and books are a valuable resource for counselors like myself that work with children—there’s a synergistic union where counseling and storytelling collide, where people can explore the beautiful, magical moments of the human condition,  as well as the heart wrenching, hard to look at, hard to feel experiences,” Bonnie says. “So, when Samantha M Clark contacted me about collaborating on an art therapy project related to THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, I was instantly interested. The characters, the power of place, and the emotional content of Samantha’s book speaks to some of the rawness, and resiliency, of the human experience, which makes it prime for creative expression and art-based projects. I look forward to sharing this book and the activities with clients.”

Developed by Bonnie and myself, the Make Your Own Courage Art Therapy Project uses the Boy’s story to give adults tools they can use to help the scared kids in their lives. There are two programs: one for clinical therapists and one for parents, teachers, librarians or other caregivers.

Each program offers discussion points from THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, focusing on what the Boy goes through and tools he uses to combat his fears. Along with each discussion point are fun exercises to help kids work through their own fears.

In the clinical program, the exercises have the potential to get kids to open up about any trauma they have experienced, a crucial step toward healing. Childhood trauma affects people all their lives, often morphing into other emotions, like anger, depression, eating disorders, addictions, and more. Look at this infograph about the impact of childhood trauma on adult disorders.

Through the exercises in the clinical Make Your Own Courage Art Therapy program, therapists can help kids begin to work through their trauma. This program is recommended for use by professional therapists because they can guide the child’s healing with deeper discussion.

In the second Make Your Own Courage Art Therapy program, the discussion points and exercises are designed not to dig into emotional trauma but more to help children see ways to turn their anxiety and fears into more positive feelings. This caregivers program is suitable for use by parents, teachers, librarians and other caregivers. As an example of the types of activities in the program, librarians can have children draw a comic where they’re the hero or create their own comfort box.

Writing THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST scared me and stretched me—many times I thought I couldn’t do it—but living the boy’s story helped me push through my negative thoughts of failure and gain confidence in myself and my work. I hope that through the book and the Make Your Own Courage Art Therapy Project by Bonnie and I, readers will find their own strength and hope.

For more information about the Make Your Own Courage Art Therapy program, visit my website at ( You can learn more about Bonnie Thomas here (

Screen Shot 2018-06-16 at 6.38.56 PM.pngSamantha M Clark is the author of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster) and has always loved stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. After all, if four ordinary brothers and sisters can find a magical world at the back of a wardrobe, why can’t she? While she looks for her real-life Narnia, she writes about other ordinary children and teens who’ve stumbled into a wardrobe of their own. In a past life, Samantha was a photojournalist and managing editor for newspapers and magazines. She lives with her husband and two kooky dogs in Austin, Texas. Samantha is the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and explores wardrobes every chance she gets. Sign up for news and giveaways at (

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