Project Open Book

Dick and Jane
Meet ET

by Patrick Huyghe

What should we tell the children about them?

For believers in the reality of extraterrestrial visitations, that's the highly provocative question raised by the publication of an illustrated children's book about alien abduction. Ceto's New Friends, written by abductee Leah Haley, illustrated by Lisa Dusenberry, and published by Greenleaf Publications, appears to be the first of its kind.

It's not a bad idea -- on the surface, anyway. Abduction researchers have run into an increasing number of cases involving very young children. Being both an abductee and a mother, Haley has obviously tuned into this trend and written a book to ease the fears that young children may have about extraterrestrials.

At first glance, the book seems harmless. It's a Dick-and-Jane-makes-a-new-friend story, only their names here are Annie and Seth. And the new friend is a little gray humanoid with big black eyes called Ceto.

Author and abductee Leah Haley.
The story begins with Ceto coming to Earth, seeing Annie and Seth playing, and asking to be their friend. Then, after playing ball and marbles together, the three hold hands and a beam of light sweeps them aboard Ceto's silver spaceship. The ET teaches the Earth kids to float in the air and "speak with their eyes." Annie and Seth play with the spaceship's bright colored control buttons and watch colored lines wiggle across the screen.

When Annie and Seth begin to tire, Ceto takes them back to Earth. In the end, they exchange gifts -- a terrestrial marble for an extraterrestrial purple rock -- and say their farewells before Ceto takes off in his spaceship. Cute.

But the story has tapped into a long-smoldering debate in the UFO community. The issue is this: Are the ETs friendly like Ceto, or are they in fact cruel, self-centered, emotionless creatures whose interactions with humans verge on evil?

Abduction researcher Budd Hopkins, who is anything but enamored with the alien "grays," feels the book is extremely dangerous.

"Leah should know better," he says. "Teaching children that ETs are friendly is like teaching them to take candy from strangers." His anger rises so rapidly when talking about the grays that he has trouble finding words -- other than expletives -- to express his feelings. But one gets the impression that in his eyes, at least, the aliens and, say, Hannibal Lecter are cut from the same cloth.

Even so, Hopkins' reaction is positively mild-mannered compared to the visceral outrage the book has elicited from others -- like Robert Girard, who runs Arcturus Books, Inc., a mail-order UFO book business, out of Port St. Lucie, Florida. "My jaw dropped so far down when I saw this that my belly button hurt for a week," he says. "It may be the most unfortunate development in UFOlogy in many years."

If the aliens turn out to be real -- and real nasty -- Girard may have a point. The book's "apparent intention," writes Girard, "is to introduce toddlers to alien abductions early (say, age 3 or so), before they find out the hard way -- later in life -- via trauma, ruined lives, etc., and to make the introduction a friendly one, in which the toddlers apply their innate trust in all things and all beings to the very monsters who are going to stick long needles into their bellies, ram huge contraptions up their behinds, empty their brains, make them pregnant and then rip out the fetuses, cut them, scrape them, inflict unspeakable pain on them and tell them (if anything at all) 'it is necessary that we do this.' Of course, none of those things happen to the two tykes in the book -- and that's what strikes me as the ultimate Big Lie that one could ever inflict upon a totally impressionable mind: the idea that the grays are our friends."

Annie and Seth float up to their new friend's spaceship.
On the other side of the UFOlogical fence are those, like Sacramento behavioral scientist Richard Boylan, who tend to view alien encounters as essentially positive. Boylan recommends the book highly because of its usefulness in getting children to talk about their ET experiences. He compares it to books that have been developed for children in alcoholic families or for children who have been abused. "I think it creates a window of opportunity for a parent and child to sit down and talk about what happened to the child," says Boylan.

"What we know from child psychology," he continues, "is that it's better to give children the chance to talk through their experiences. And many children are reluctant to talk through their contact experiences. They are afraid that adults, their parents, won't believe them, or the kids may not have the verbal category to talk about the experience, since extraterrestrial contact is not commonly part of our culture's vocabulary yet." And even if the tenor of the child's experience happens to differ from the one the book portrays, Boylan feels "there is enough triggering in the story to allow a child to say, 'Well, gee, I had that meeting, too.' "

Of course, all this assumes the aliens are real. Being an even-handed sort of fellow, I'd say it's possible they are not, in which case this book is a fantasy and it should be perfectly okay to portray the aliens as nice -- except for one thing. How is a child to differentiate an alien, real or imagined, from an ill-intentioned human stranger -- a kidnapper, a pedophile, a child pornographer? If you're three or four, that might be a tough proposition.

And that's my strongest objection to the book: A third of the way into the story, Ceto asks Annie and Seth: "Would you like to go for a ride in my spaceship?" And what do the children in the book do? They go. No resistance. No question. They just go.

You don't teach little tykes that it's okay to go for a ride with a stranger, regardless of who that stranger happens to be -- human or alien. For a children's book, it's a fatal mistake.

Haley, a 46-year-old mother of two college-age daughters, should know better, not least because the real-life episode that Haley claims this book is loosely based upon happened quite differently. It supposedly occurred in Alabama when Haley was three and her little brother was one. But in that episode, when the alien asked if they wanted to go for a ride in his spaceship, she replied: "My mother would get mad at me." Good girl, Leah. (It didn't help, of course. The cunning little alien managed to brush off her concerns, and off they went.)

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