Free children’s book supports conversations around parental substance use

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Guest Blog – Dr Cassey Muir, Population Health Sciences Institute, Newcastle University

Children, young people, their families, teachers, and researchers at Newcastle University and Fuse have worked with an illustrator, Josie Brookes and author, Danielle Slade, to write a children’s book called, Twinkle, Twinkle Arti. 

The book, which  is funded by NIHR School for Public Health Research, came about when researchers, including myself, at Newcastle University conducted two studies: the Safe Space project (Dr Ruth McGovern and Debbie Smart), which examined the support needs of non-substance using parents or caregivers in substance exposed families and the SPRing study (myself, Dr Cassey Muir), which examined the support needs of children whose parents use alcohol or drugs. Children and young people whose parents use substances often feel alone in their experiences, with very few people to trust or talk to. They told us that a children’s storybook would be helpful, which could be read in primary school or the home about how it feels when a parent or caregiver uses alcohol or drugs and how to get help from people.  Parents and caregivers told us that they often did not plan how and when to have a conversation with the child in their family and had to answer the questions they had in the way they thought best. The messages from those studies were taken and developed into Arti, the wishing star.  

This book was written for children (approx. age 5-8 years) who have a parent or caregiver who uses substances, as a way of opening up conversations between children and trusted adults. The key messages in this book let children know:  

  • It’s ok to have mixed feelings about a parent who uses alcohol or drugs 
  • They are not alone with their feelings 
  • There are people who will listen to them and help 

Although this book was written for children who are impacted by parental substance use, it is for all children who would like to follow the story of Arti, the wishing star. Within this book, there is no mention or depiction of alcohol or drugs, instead we use out-of-this-world storytelling with made-up characters. Alcohol and drugs are represented through a fictional character, a creature known as a Yozzle, who causes mischief throughout the story. There are conversation prompts at the end of the book if you would also like to continue the conversation about the story and characters within it with children. 

There’s an opportunity for this book to be used as a whole class resource, in small targeted groups, one to one, or handed on to parents/caregivers of children you know are impacted by parental substance use.  

We’ve already received lots of great feedback, as well as families/practitioners reaching out for the book. Fingers crossed the book contributes to ending the silence and stigma for children. 

Here are a few examples of quotes we have received:     

A quote from a practitioner: “I received the book last week and read it to two of the children I work with.  It was amazing.  I can’t wait to continue using it. Thank you so much, this is an excellent resource.”  

A quote from a parent who helped co-produce the book: “I am proud of the book because other children won’t have to go through what my children have.”  

A quote from a young person: “This book is something I would have loved to have been able to give to little me, having something that related to my home situation when I was a child. To be able to show children that they are not alone and there are people around them who are there to give them love and support. To hopefully reach them earlier than I was reached out to.”  

Whilst there are limited numbers of hard copies (200 copies in total were printed in the first instance) we do have a freely downloadable pdf of the book.  

The link to the pdf is here:   

To find out more about this book, please contact myself at  

You could also listen to the AAI podcast to hear more about this research and how to help young people dealing with this issue.