Reviews: A Curriculum of Courage

The founder of SafeArt, which focuses on creative expression to prevent and heal abuse and other traumas, discusses its genesis and methods in this debut educational guide. The author begins her book with “Coming To,” her monologue about being “reborn” at age 30 by finally leaving her emotionally abusive husband, which is also the “story that led to the creation of SafeArt.” She came to realize that having the courage to take dance classes at 20 and then expressing herself through that discipline greatly aided her healing journey, a tactic that she now applies and expands on via SafeArt’s various arts-focused workshops and activities.

In this guide, Penfield (co-editor: On Our Way: An Anthology of SafeArt Writing, 2000-2010, 2016, etc.) discusses her organization’s key principles. They include the need to trust one’s gut instincts regarding abusive situations and to be accountable in responding to them, which means taking responsibility and following mandated reporting procedures when a witness to abuse. She also touches on how the brain deals with trauma, drawing on scientific sources, and, in what constitutes the bulk of this volume, outlines the various “explorations” or arts activities that have proved effective for SafeArt. They include having workshop participants imagine and then draw the different compartments of their brains as a way to understand the responses that can happen in the face of abuse.

Penfield deftly weaves an array of SafeArt participants’ works (poems, drawings, etc.) as well as many personal journal entries into her commentary, with several appendices of workshop outlines and tools as well as an additional resource list completing the book. She has created a lovely multimedia narrative that gently leads readers into SafeArt’s world, with its case-study stories and contributed illustrations serving as a mirror and testimony to the impact and value of this wonderful organization. The volume’s backmatter then presents practical takeaways for implementation. While some readers may prefer a more straightforward, blueprint approach, the exploratory nature of this work remains both appropriate to SafeArt’s mission and well worth the odyssey…provides a beautifully rendered introduction to a remarkable healing initiative and a useful tool kit.

— Kirkus Reviews

A Curriculum of Courage: Making SafeArt is a profound resource for anyone working with children and youth who have experienced trauma. SafeArt seeks to empower people through facilitating creative expression and this guide gives us a beautiful entry into this world. A Curriculum of Courage offers an accessible lesson on trauma followed by in-depth insights about abuse, sexual violence, gender identity and sexual orientation. The most precious gift of this curriculum are the generous explorations in movement, drama, writing, visual art and music. Thank you, Tracy Penfield, for sharing your gifts with us so that we may better share them with others.

— Amy Torchia, Children’s Advocacy Coordinator – Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

SafeArt’s curriculum guide is solidly rooted in the field of expressive arts therapy and is supported by a growing body of evidence of the mind-body connection through the hard-science of neuropsychology. By exploring paradigms of power-and -control that underlie all forms of violence, Tracy Penfield – along with the many facilitators who have developed programs that are outlined in this curriculum guide – offer up a resource of hope and renewal. The interdependence of mind/body and spirit is inexorably linked with creative action. Through examples of creative expression activities Tracy Penfield shows how we can cultivate hope, and empowerment, through creative acts that are transformative for both the creator and the witness alike.

— Laurie Anne Kozar, Visiting Arts Facilitator – specializing in symbol formation / meditation & non-dominant hand drawing, book binding with creative writing & personal narrative. Alumna, Goddard College, Individualized Program, Plainfield, VT.

Hi, I have just finished reading the book…every word! The book is impressive and so beautifully put together. I like the color changes for pieces separate from the running text and the photos make it so very real for the reader. I think in spelling out your techniques, programs, etc you have made it a very useful book for other practitioners now and in the future. The book has been a lot of hard work but what a great success…a beautiful feather in your cap! Just think about how many people SafeArt has helped already and how many more your book will help in places far and near.

— Bonny Willett

The SafeArt book is a compelling and practical guide for educators to make room in our schools and classrooms for students to explore the interconnected topics of abuse, healing, and resiliency and gain new perspective and skills to lead a healthy life.

Tracy has created many access points to this complex subject matter. Each chapter clearly outlines curriculum and activities that others can adapt to their setting and students. Woven throughout the book are excerpts from Tracy’s journal, so that we have a window into the author’s own experiences and reflections – as an individual, artist, and educator. In addition, the photographs from residencies help the reader to visualize the impact of the curriculum and activities on the youth participants.
A Curriculum of Courage is an important contribution to the growing field of social and emotional learning (SEL).

— Carrie Brennan, MA
Executive Director
CITY Center for Collaborative Learning, Tucson, AZ

Beginning with the title itself, this book is a powerful statement about what it takes to work through and move beyond the shattering experiences of trauma and abuse. Serving both as a testament to the courage required for change and as a curriculum guide, the book invites the reader into safe practices for the understanding and expression of difficult life events. Poignant, wise, and clearly written, it offers an easy-to-follow model for the prevention and healing of sexual and emotional abuse. I trust that those who recognize themselves within these pages will feel understood, and that those who want to participate in the education and healing of others will be guided by Penfield’s words and examples.

A Curriculum of Courage is a tribute to the 25 years of SafeArt’s programs and to the creativity of its founder, Tracy Penfield, and her colleagues. Through Penfield’s personal example, this book is also a testament to the creativity she exemplifies and to the importance of artistic expression in all of us.

— Sandra Ullmann, PsyD
Clinical Psychologist and Psychoanalyst


A Curriculum of Courage intertwines self-exploration with self-expression and gives us a beautiful and uplifting answer to the trauma so prevalent in our time. Through explanations of specific and time-tested creative tools whose end goal is empowerment and healing, Tracy Penfield offers clear and useful techniques that can be easily incorporated into a responsive classroom.

Cleanly written and accompanied by evocative artwork and photography, A Curriculum of Courage catalogs the ongoing work of a dynamic artist who has encouraged thousands of people to dance, paint, sculpt, weave, and write as a way to honor all aspects of their lives. This exquisite book is a necessity for all of us who work daily with children and teens in public schools.

— Anne Bergeron, MA, IMA, E-RYT

Tracy has written a beautiful guide for making SafeArt, allowing the reader to experience the many forms of expressive arts as a road map to healing from trauma. In my work with survivors of sexual and domestic violence and young women with addiction, I have found that the majority of my clients are able to engage in their clinical work more fully using some form of expressive art. I am eager to begin using Tracy’s curriculum guide which clearly and concisely explains diverse approaches for self expression and self discovery.

— Brenda Pitmon, LICSW, LADAC

I so wish this guide had been available several decades ago, when I was a practicing psychotherapist specializing in traumatic abuse. Also a trauma survivor, I suspect that exposure to SafeArt language & principles would have informed, indeed probably transformed, my journey in both “roles.” This book itself is a work of art; it would be appreciated by a wide range of healers and artists, as well as survivors

— Mary Jean McKelvy

This is an important publication aimed at a seriously under-served population. Written primarily as an educational guide and instruction manual for healing arts therapists, the book’s bi-level approach, both instructional and anecdotal, broadens its appeal to a wide range of people (teachers, mental health practitioners, counselors, parents, and many others) interested in mitigating the lasting effects of trauma caused by domestic and sexual abuse.

The author writes engagingly and confidently, based on 15 years’ experience of working in the trenches with victims of physical and mental trauma. The presentation is beautiful and, far from being a dry curriculum, the book is immensely readable. If trauma from abuse impacts your life either directly or indirectly, as a victim, a healer, or somewhere between the two, read this book now.

— Jennie Martin