Helping Hand stories interview with Sarah, Duchess of York


Why did you write the Helping Hand stories?


The simple answer is that I was originally asked to by a UK pharmacy chain who felt there was a need for them.  But as I started to work on the stories, listened to Dr Richard Woolfson, the child psychologist who worked closely with us, and talked to mums with young children, it became clearer and clearer to me that this was something I could really contribute to.  If we could tackle the issues that all children face growing up by using that oldest but most effective technique, storytelling, to create something that invited young children to start understanding those issues whilst being of practical help to parents, we would be doing something really worthwhile.


Why have you decided to republish them now?


Two reasons:  firstly the importance of encouraging people of all ages to talk about difficult experiences as a healthy thing to do has become increasingly prominent and accepted. The Helping Hand stories are designed to help both parents and young children to do exactly that.  My hope is that parents (and grandparents) will read the books with their children and talk about the stories after they have read them.  Secondly, they were extremely popular with customers of the pharmacy chain but there is a much bigger audience out there who will not have come across the books yet – and will hopefully find them just as useful.


We have brought them up to date in a bigger format with fantastic new illustrations – I can say that as I didn’t do them!  They are the work of a very talented illustrator, Amit Tayal – thank you Amit for bringing the stories vividly to life.  We’ve also produced ebook versions of the stories so they can be read on a tablet or laptop.


How did you choose the issues to write about?


I wanted to tackle issues that are important and universal.  Take bullying for example.  According to UK research, at least two in five young people have experienced bullying in some form in the previous year.  And bullying is the most common reason for children aged 11 and under to contact Childline.  ‘James and the Bullies’ is a simple story of bullying at school that illustrates how to face up to the problem and to go about resolving it.  As with so many problems, being brave enough to talk about it is more than half the answer.  Also, each story includes ten ‘Helpful Hints’ contributed by Richard Woolfson to give parents practical ways to help deal with the issue.


Do the stories reflect your personal experience?


As a mother, I was of course concerned about the issues that the stories cover and I would have loved to have had them to hand when I was a young Mum.   But I wanted to write them, based on a broader understanding of the issues and the ways to tackle them.  So the situations and solutions I describe come from both Richard Woolfson’s many years’ experience working with children and their parents and the many conversations I have had with other parents at the school gate and subsequently.


Do you have plans to write more Helping Hand stories?


I would love to.  There’s no shortage of topics.  For example, the growth of cyberbullying is something I know the parents of young children I talk to are desperately worried about.  It’s a problem that just did not exist when they were children so it is more difficult to grasp.  I think a story that shed some light on the issue and offered advice on how to tackle it would be very well received.


What do you hope the Helping Hand stories will achieve?


I had a conversation the other day with a mum who had recently read the stories to her young daughter.  She told me that, initially, she had been a little wary of raising such difficult topics with her innocent young child.  But, equally, she knew that her little girl would have to face such issues, probably sooner rather than later.  As they describe a fictional situation, the stories had been a relaxed way to introduce the topics and her daughter had engaged with them. She identified with the children portrayed in them and wanted to read them again a few days later, asking a number of questions.Mum and Dad had felt very relieved that the topics were now ‘on the table’ and indeed the books were now literally on the bedside table to be referred to, as and when needed.  If that experience could be repeated a thousand times – or even tens of thousands of times – I would be thrilled.