What started out as an idea for a short story about a little girl who spends a lot of time in the hospital has evolved into a vision: A virtual world for kids with special needs, featuring White Bear, a stuffed animal and his best friend Angel, a little girl born with a group of birth defects known as VACTERL association (also VATER association) requiring numerous surgeries, including a kidney transplant. White Bear and Angel’s adventures are a family affair. You can learn more when you read the first book in their series, White Bear’s Big Adventure. For a while, we talked about writing a stand-alone story for and about Angel and White Bear.  We always knew it would be a book that other seriously ill children could relate to. As the story developed, my sister Lisa Barriera, Angel’s mother, took pictures of White Bear in his usual surroundings, the hospital.  Originally we were going to use her pictures in the book.  When we were finalizing the layout, we realized that though the pictures were as authentic,  they didn’t quite tell the story we wanted to tell. As luck would have it, we were able to hire a very talented professional children’s illustrator, Jeanine Henning, to bring White Bear to life. Watching White Bear come alive left us with no doubt that White Bear could offer real support for all children facing serious illnesses, disabilities and all kinds of difficult situations.      This population of kids does not have what others take for granted. They do not have a series of books written about and for kids like them.  Sure, there are books about visits to the doctor, breaking legs, having new siblings, and even for adoption, but these do not represent the needs of kids who are chronically, seriously or terminally ill. These special kids deserve books that they and their siblings can relate to.  We are planning a series of books that asks and answers questions that sick children can relate to. Illness and hospitals will be matter of fact locations in this series, not special events. Kids facing other types of disabilities and hardships will also be featured in these books.  We hope that someday there will be a book with a story for every child to see a reflection of themselves. White Bear’s World is an ambitious project that is underway, aimed at providing support and information for special needs kids and their families everywhere.  The project will take a village just as raising a special needs child takes a village. As the details of the project become available, you will be able to find information on this site and at http://www.mariecheine.com. Keep watching to follow our progress, step by step.

This article in its original format is available at Harmonic Factory Publishing