From anti-terrorism specialist to author of children’s books.
By Marjolein Kats, pictures by Marion Keijzer
What does apprehending war criminals have to do with fairy tales? Children’s book author Dennis Horstman-Maassen wrote the fairy tale King Cuddle. The idea for the book came to him when he was a marine stationed in a war zone. ‘What children learn at a young age can determine whether or not they pick up a gun later on in life.’
The fairy tale King Cuddle, written by Dennis Horstman-Maassen, deals with accepting people who are different than you. ‘And about accepting yourself, if you are different than others’, the author states. In the warm and witty fairy tale King Cuddle’s arms grow faster than the rest of his body. He believes cuddling is the answer to all problems. But then one day a little princess is born and everything changes.
The first seed for the book was planted when Dennis Horstman-Maassen was active as a marine. In the nineties he was stationed in Bosnia with the Special Security Unit (BBE) of the marines. This anti-terrorism unit apprehended individuals who were on a list of suspects of war crimes. Horstman-Maassen: ‘War makes people act like animals, but they are not animals. In that period I have seen that people are essentially good, even though they do horrible things.’ As a result of his mission to Bosnia the author deems certain values essential. These are woven into the narrative of the children’s book. ‘Every person is equal, but not the same. And everyone deserves respect, but not all behaviour does.’
Horstman-Maassen also found inspiration in his current line of work in psychiatry. Besides being an author of children’s books, he works for the RIBW in Arnhem, as a sheltered housing supervisor of the active intervention team. The team guides people, who other people believe ‘cannot be guided’. Through this job, Horstman-Maassen has to deal with people who are ‘different’ on a daily basis.
What is the line between being crazy and normal? Is there even one? And at what point is someone different or limited? These themes come back in the fairy tale. ‘Limitations are mostly in people’s minds and are not real physical limitations, as they are normally described as.’ is the author’s opinion.
For the annual ‘reading out loud weeks’ in 2015, the author read out loud at elementary schools and discussed bullying with the older students by using his book as a guideline. Horstman-Maassen: ‘Waging war is no different than adults bullying each other. To get the message across that some people are different than others and that we have to accept that, is something that cannot be started with too soon. What children learn consciously or subconsciously at a young age can determine whether or not they will pick up a gun at a later age.’
For this reason Dennis Horstman-Maassen is developing a workshop for schools titled ‘Differently normal’, with the story of King Cuddle as the basis. The workshop will deal with the underlying drive to bully, being different, and the emphasis will be on bringing people together based on equality.
The illustrations in the book were done by Derrick Putman and Lucy Johannes from KUNSTportaal, with whom the writer came into contact because of his work at RIBW. KUNSTportaal is meeting place and an art studio for people with psychiatric or psychological disabilities.