Well, can you keep a secret? Children’s author, N. Joy, certainly can-and unfortunately she did. Because of that secret she kept, N. Joy’s children’s book, The Secret Olivia Told Me, which received the American Library Association Coretta Scott King Honor, is turning out to be both a gift and a curse for this author.
Two years ago when N. Joy learned the children’s picture book she’d written was awarded this prestigious honor, she saw this as nothing less than complete favor from God. It was during her celebratory praises that she had a revelation. It was then when the true meaning of the book she wrote over sixteen years ago, but wasn’t published until fourteen years later, came back to mind.
In the summer of 1986 after her freshmen year of high school, N. Joy’s younger next door neighbor told her a secret. Like the narrator in The Secret Olivia Told Me, N. Joy promised she would not tell. And she didn’t. It haunts her to this day wondering what might have happened had she told the secret her neighbor had shared with her as they sat out on the porch that summer evening. Her neighbor had gone to visit a friend from her old neighborhood and she’d taken along a new friend to join her. Later that week, in a casual conversation, the friend shared with N. Joy a startling secret. She’d told N. Joy that over that weekend, the girl’s of whom they’d gone to visit step-father convinced them to engage in their first sexual experience with him, so when they found a “real” boyfriend they would already know how to do it.
In a child-like whisper, which is what she was; a child, the friend swore N. Joy to secrecy. N. Joy never told; not even three years later when she saw the story on the news and read the news headline on August 12, 1989 that a Columbus, Ohio COTA bus driver named Ronald E. Waugh had plead guilty to raping 14 children, ages 3-15. At first N. Joy thought maybe it was a coincidence, but then they began to tell the story of how the perpetrator used his stepdaughter to lure some of the victims over. The stepdaughter gave a list of names to investigators of girls she knew her stepfather had raped. My neighbor and her friend were on that list, but when they were questioned by authorities, they denied it; they didn’t tell.
“I don’t know why I didn’t tell the secret,” N. Joy states. “I don’t know how many children may not have had to endure the rapes had I told.” Eventually someone did tell though. Someone had picked up the phone and telephoned in a tip to a child abuse hot line. But it wasn’t N. Joy. “To this day I’m baffled at my own actions. When ever I’d hear of a child being raped, I could never understand why they just didn’t tell, but I never once looked back to my own situation. I can’t justify why I kept the secret. I mean, I could see if I was in elementary school, but I was in high school and I still kept the secret.” Yes, The Secret Olivia Told Me has pretty pictures, but the true story behind the book isn’t pretty at all. What N. Joy is hoping is that the questions she poses to the readers at the end of the book regarding keeping secrets(what’s a good secret, what’s a bad secret, etc…) will provoke and give someone the courage to tell. So even though the little rhymes are cute and the pictures are lovely, it’s those nine questions in the back of the book that are going to save lives.