The Secret Wish by Niki Burton is a beautiful illustrated picture book for primary school readers who are struggling to deal with their parent’s separation and divorce. The story follows a similar theme of picture books such as: Incredibly Lonely, That's Me by Ben Keckler, for children who are battling loneliness, and The Healing Book by Ellen Sabin that deals with grieving. The Secret Wish is also available as part of the 'Family Repair Kit' that includes additional stories: I Don't Want to Go, which draws upon a similar theme of family separation. Where are you now? aims to help a child cope with the death of a loved one, and My Guiding Star! is for Adoptive Parents or Grandparents who have dedicated their lives to caring for children.
The Secret Wish is centred on a little boy's hidden dream for his parents to reunite. This poignant story of hope and restoration, amid the grief of a family breakdown, is dramatised through the child's point of view. The story is a presented using a childlike handwriting, and is in rhyming verse. Key words are capitalised in bold or highlighted in colour such as: FAMILY, HEART, Secret Wish, LOVE, Dreamed, and Dad. These words are designed to capture the reader's attention, and convey the thoughts or emotions that are of the most significance during this difficult time.
The illustrator, Julie Sneeden, uses a particular combination of colour and moment in her vibrant watercolour graphics to capture the little boy's emotional conflicts, his dreams of his parent's reunion and the happiness and contentment that is possible. Each illustration is a snapshot of his journey through his radically changing world. He observes other children spending time with their fathers in the park. He sheds silent tears at night and struggles with the feelings of incompleteness and the fear of abandonment.
The multi-cultural images of children that are reflected in his bedroom window, evokes a greater cultural focus. Despite his feelings, the little boy is not alone in his grief. There are other children all over the world that have secret wishes just like him. The story concludes with the positive reinforcement that: “One little boy with a Secret Wish. With time he would come to see. That no matter how sad or alone he feels. He'll have the love of his family.”
I enjoyed reading this inspiring story, which is dedicated to empowering children and to build their empathy for other children who have experienced similar trauma. The evocative artwork and the simple narrative would invite a child's interaction and would help them to articulate their feelings. I was impressed by Niki Burton's sensitivity and her unique approach in providing a 'Grief Recovery' section at the end of the book. This section provides an opportunity for Parents, Teachers or Carers, to help children heal, and to navigate their way through the emotional challenges of their changing family relationships.