I started reading One Child: The True Story of a Tormented Six-Year-Old and the Brilliant Teacher Who Reached Out over 20 years ago.  Working downtown Pittsburgh and taking the bus gave me time every day to read.  When I was about halfway through this book, however, my purse with the book in it was stolen at work.  After all these years I often thought about the book, wondering what happened to that little girl.  A week ago I found this book at the library and decided to read it again and finally find out how the story ended.


Sheila is a victim of child abuse. She lived in a migrant camp with her father after her mother abandoned her.  When Sheila was four-years-old, her mother left her on the side of a highway and fled to California with her younger son. Child abuse was apparent when Sheila was found and taken to the hospital.  She had multiple healed fractures and scars.  Custody then went to the father who was recently released from prison.

The newspaper reported that a six-year-old girl tied up and then burned a three-year-old neighborhood boy in woods near their houses.  The little boy was in critical condition.  The girl, Sheila, was taken into custody after the incident and then sent back home until an opening became available in the children’s unit at the state hospital.  She was causing trouble for a month at home, so authorities decided to enroll her in a classroom for severely disturbed children until she could be admitted to the state hospital.  The classroom teacher was Torey Hayden who described her experience with dealing with Sheila in One Child: The True Story of a Tormented Six-Year-Old and the Brilliant Teacher Who Reached Out.

Her father was very poor living in a migrant camp with no heat, plumbing, or electricity. Consequently, Sheila came to school every day with the same clothes on and without taking a bath.  She stank with body odor and urine.  After a while, Torey cleaned Sheila up a little before the other children arrived at school.  During this time, Torey had time to talk with Sheila alone to find out more about her situation.  It was their special time.  Sheila loved it and started opening up to her teacher.  Their relationship develops throughout the story.


I enjoyed the honesty in the book.  There are many things in this life that we will never know.  Torey tells us this in the book.  Sheila refused to do assignments that involved writing or drawing on paper.  When someone would give her paper, she would crumble it up and throw it, over and over again.  Sheila demonstrated how intelligent she was by doing verbal math or playing with blocks.  So it wasn’t because she didn’t know how.

I never learned whatever it was that motivated Sheila toward her paper phobia.  Later interactions with her over it and later comments that she made reaffirmed my belief that it was related to a fear of failure.  But I never really knew, nor did I feel a pressing need to know, only because so few human behaviors can be reduced to such simple cause-effect terms (p. 157)

Another mystery is why Sheila tied the little boy to a tree and burned him.  She never talked about it.  The book is told from Torey’s perspective, so we never really know or understand what Sheila is thinking.

Yet not once was the abuse incident brought up.  Not with the kids. Not with me or the other adults.  Never.  I did not suggest the topic either.  Although I seldom avoided issues, this one I felt instinctively I should leave alone, for no other reason than what my gut told me.  So we never discussed it.  I never found out what had been going through Sheila’s mind that cold November evening.



One Child: The True Story of a Tormented Six-Year-Old and the Brilliant Teacher Who Reached Out is a true story of child abuse which is heart-wrenching.  Torey saved Sheila’s life.  If Sheila would have been admitted to the State Hospital, she would most likely have been drugged and remained a mental patient the rest of her life.  I loved this book.  Although it is hard for me to hear about child abuse, I like happy endings.

Another great book, similar to this one, is Damaged and Bastard Out of Carolina.  They both are about child abuse and very good reads.


One Child
Article Name
One Child
Sheila, a six-year-old girl who experienced child abuse, joins a classroom of severely disturbed children. One Child is the story of how her teacher helps this little girl to survive her trauma.

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