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The State Journal-Register

Posted by on Nov 23, 2014 in Writing Process |

Baby’s Death Becomes Children’s Book to Prevent Child Abuse JACKSONVILLE — Valerie Eyer’s baby brother smiles up at her from her favorite page in her storybook. She hasn’t seen him since his death seven years ago. Valerie’s birth father beat her little brother, Maxwell, to death in 2007 in Alton. That act of child abuse uprooted the then-4-year-old Valerie to Jacksonville, placed her in foster care and later led to adoption by her maternal grandparents. The young girl’s story has a tough beginning, but she believes it’s one worth telling. This year, Valerie, now 11, and her adoptive mother, Gwenn Eyer, turned the tragedy into a children’s book — “Why Did We Have to Say Goodbye? Valerie’s Story” — to help others through grief and ideally prevent child abuse. “It’s my chance to share my story,” Valerie said. “It’s about not hurting children.” The mother-daughter duo never intended to publish the story, but as the words and the pictures began to come together, both saw a greater purpose to the personal project. The book won’t be the type of story wrapped with a bow under a Christmas tree, but it could be used in places such as counselors’ offices and foster homes. “I want a family who’s experienced that loss to read the book and have the child understand that he or she is not alone and that there is hope,” Eyer said. “I want a parent who’s putting a child at risk to see this book and say, ‘Hey, it’s not worth it and this needs to change.’ ” Not an easy decision Maxwell’s death and his parents’ incarceration had been public and painful for the whole Eyer family. Seven years later, Gwenn Eyer can still rattle through the list of things and people, including herself, who could have saved the little boy. “We went through an awful time because we lost our grandson, and we felt like it was something that could have been prevented,” she said. “You coach, you counsel, you report, you do everything you can to keep something like this from happening … but you can’t be there every minute.” Even with the lives they believe the book might be able to change, publishing the story was not an easy decision. Eyer and Valerie sought advice from a counselor and foster parents before agreeing to move forward with the book. The project started as Valerie’s “lifebook,” which is a tool commonly used in foster care to help children bridge past experiences with present circumstances. Eyer, who raised four other adopted children with her husband, Glenn, said that often when children are shuffled from one home to the next, they lose the photographs and mementos many traditional families can easily access. Lifebooks fill in gaps where memories might be lost. “It’s a sad story,” Eyer said. “It’s not a fun story to tell, but it’s...

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WICS ABC NewsChannel 20, Springfield, Illinois, with Liz Foster

Posted by on Nov 23, 2014 in Writing Process |

Local Girl Publishes Book About Child Abuse 11-year-old Valerie Eyer is a bright and smart girl; a 5th grader at Illinois School for the Deaf. She has always loved to read and write which is why she penned hardships in her short life thus far in journals and by writing songs. “She’s always known it was her story and always known it was hers to tell,” said Gwenn Eyer. When she was just 4-years-old, Valerie’s 2-year-old brother Maxwell died tragically, a victim of child abuse. She entered foster care and was later adopted by her grandparents Gwenn Eyer and her husband. Valerie, with help from her adopted mother, wrote the book Why Did We Have to Say Goodbye about losing her baby brother. Valerie said, “I think parents would hopefully learn not to hurt their kids.” “We’ve never made it a shameful thing, never a hidden thing. But it’s her story. But it doesn’t have to define her,” Gwenn said. Initially, Gwenn helped put the story together just for Valerie, as a “lifebook” of sorts. Gwenn said, “I just basically put it together for her, using things she had said, using things she had written and I read it to her one day, on a day she went to counseling because I knew that was smart. We read it and we cried. I sent it to counseling and the counselor wanted a copy. Then it was ‘maybe it could be a book.'” At her book launch party in Jacksonville, Valerie signed each book “every child counts” with her name. A family friend, Sharon Coker, who drew the illustrations, signed alongside her. The Eyer family self-published the book and the entire production was done locally. The heartbreaking story, written from a child’s perspective, provides insight into how child abuse impacts young survivors. It’s Valerie and her mom’s hope that it will help others, especially those who have been in an abusive household. “The book could help them realize that they’re not alone,” said Valerie. Gwenn said, “If I thought it could help one family, protect a child, that would be really big for me.” In the book, Valerie writes “she’ll see Max in heaven one one day” and she already knows what she’ll do as soon as she sees him: “hug him,” Valerie said with a smile. For those wondering about as for Valerie and Maxwell’s biological father, he was sentenced to 44 years in prison, for the death of Maxwell. If you’re interested in a copy of Valerie’s book, you can buy it...

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Bound to Stay Bound Books

Posted by on Nov 23, 2014 in Writing Process |

This slideshow requires JavaScript. Print on Demand, cases and end sheets – we are becoming very familiar with the self-publishing process! It’s been a pleasure to work with Amy at Bound to Stay Bound Books (BTSB) where we can do all of the work locally. BTSB uses high-quality binding methods with state-of-the-art machinery and long-lasting materials. Their bookkrafters division offers bind-on-demand so that are able to reprint, as needed. We all have enjoyed learning about the process and Valerie has been included as part of the team the whole...

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Local Young Author Writes Wrongs – My Journal Courier

Posted by on Nov 3, 2014 in Writing Process |

Local Young Author Writes Wrongs It’s one of the first things you notice about 11-year-old Valerie Eyer as she swings open the door to the bed and breakfast in Jacksonville where she lives with her adoptive parents. She holds open the door with her back and gestures with an open palm like a butler in an old movie; you look into her face to thank her and then you notice her eyes — dark brown, lined in long black lashes, and unusually knowing, like those of someone kind and wise and about six times her age. Those eyes remind Gwenn Eyer, Valerie’s adoptive mother, of Valerie’s little brother’s eyes — a little brother whose tragic death is at the heart of a book Gwenn and Valerie hope will help other children and families struggling in the midst or in the wake of domestic violence and abuse. The book, “Why Did We Have to Say Goodbye? Valerie’s Story” puts into prose and illustrations the first four years of Valerie’s life. Illustrations of photographs from that time show Valerie and her brother, Maxwell, making silly faces and snuggling together. Also depicted are portraits of Valerie and her brother with their biological mother — also Gwenn’s adopted daughter — and Valerie’s brother with his biological father, who was sentenced in 2009 to more than 40 years in prison in the beating death of the 2-year-old boy. “Valerie has always been a reader, she’s always enjoyed books. She’s also really strong, really smart — she gets it,” said Gwenn, who decided to create a “lifebook” for Valerie to help her more fully understand her pre-adoption history. Lifebooks can be useful tools for foster and adoptive parents and counselors or psychologists when working with children who have gone through the adoption process. “It’s ‘Who am I?’ ‘How did I get here?’” Gwenn said. “It’s your history, your life story.” By nature, lifebooks are very personal — much of Valerie’s book is gleaned from her journal entries, snippets of songs and letters she wrote to and about her brother and biological mother, and victim impact statements made in the wake of Maxwell’s death. Valerie still writes frequently in her journal, sometimes penning song lyrics, often about Maxwell, “and if I’m in a fix or something, that will come out in my song,” she said. Because she was just 4 years old when her brother was killed, Valerie has few actual memories of what life with Maxwell was like for her. “I can’t remember stuff like what we did together and what he liked. I think of pictures I’ve seen of him when I think about Maxwell,” she said. Despite the traumatic and personal nature of her story, Valerie never felt hers was a story meant to keep to herself. Something of a social butterfly, Valerie is well-known by patrons and shopkeepers at her favorite spots...

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Valerie’s Story – The Source

Posted by on Nov 1, 2014 in Writing Process |

VALERIE’S STORY 11-year-old Valerie Eyer sees how her book will be made during a visit to Bound to Stay Bound book bindery in Jacksonville. http://valspalsbooks.com    top photo. Eyer watches Jodi Carriger measure her book as Valerie sees how her book will be made.  Photos/Steve Warmowski Valerie is a bright and engaging 11-year-old with wisdom beyond her years. A student at Illinois School for the Deaf, she serves as the “Assistant Innkeeper” at Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast and is a vibrant part of the Jacksonville community. When she was just four years old, her two-year-old brother, Maxwell, was tragically killed—a victim of child abuse. Valerie entered foster care at that time and was adopted four years later.  To help Valerie understand her history and remember her beloved brother, her adoptive mother sat down to record Valerie’s story. As she progressed, she asked a local friend to try to illustrate it for Valerie. From there, pieces began to fall into place and it became clear that she was actually writing a book. Initially composed just for Valerie, “Why did We Have to Say Goodbye” references Valerie’s journal letters to Maxwell and relates her words and experiences as she grieves the loss of her “Baby Maxwell” and life as she knew it. Although Valerie was placed with grandparents, this story describes a life-changing experience that many children have to endure without family support. The author says, “We all equate loving with protecting. Although many worked hard to address the situation, we were unable to prevent Maxwell’s death. It is our hope that this book will be a resource for families at risk as well as for children and families who have experienced the trauma of child abuse and loss.”  Written in verse from a child’s perspective, the story shares Valerie’s personal experiences, providing insight into the stunning impact of child abuse on young survivors. It includes a message of hope and attempts to explain death in a way that’s more than simply scientific for children coping with loss. Starting with her descriptions of her brother and her love for him, to her reaction to sudden removal from everything familiar to her and placement in foster care, to the recognition that her brother was never coming home, to her strong faith that she will be reunited with him in Heaven, this story provides a glimpse at the heartache and grief that results from the trauma of child abuse. “The artwork is amazing and the questions posed by one little girl give voice to the confusion and pain of many children.” – Kimberly A. Mann, Ph.D., L.C.S.W. A quote from the book says, “I had a baby brother. I remember him today. He’ll always be a part of me as I go on my way. He had brown eyes and a great big smile. I really loved him so. We’d still...

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Where Did This Book Come From?

Posted by on Oct 26, 2014 in Writing Process |

“Why Did We Have to Say Goodbye?” is a labor of love, written for our daughter  Valerie when she was ten years old. Using her words and experiences as the foundation, I wrote it to serve as a printed Lifebook to document her story over time. I’d gathered photos to be included and had planned to produce one copy just for her. We first read the draft text together, and we cried together, and then I sent the draft with her to share with her counselor. Over time it became apparent that the contents of the book might help other children and families. Wonderful things happened to push us forward with publication and Valerie was very much involved in the development of the book, as it is her story. All of the work has been accomplished within 30 minutes of our home, from writing, to illustrations, to layout, to printing and binding. Our Town Books, our locally-owned independent book store, has even offered to host our official Book Launch! This section of the web site will help document the development of  “Why Did We Have to Say Goodbye: Valerie’s...

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