What started out as an idea for a short story about a little girl who spends a lot of time in the hospital evolved into a vision: A virtual world for kids with special needs, featuring White Bear, a stuffed animal whose purpose is taking care of child with life threatening illnesses. White Bear is created for young readers, particularly chronically ill children, their siblings, family and friends.
White Bear is a family affair, for many reasons, which you can read about in his first book, 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 children’s book, one 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 as one could get, 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.
Jeanine’s rough draft of Angel and White Bear in a hospital bed and final illustration
Original photography by Lisa Barriera and final illustration by Jeanine
Watching White Bear come alive left us with no doubt that White Bear could be a relatable means of support for all children facing serious illnesses, disabilities and all kinds of difficult situations.
We are lucky enough to live in a time when most kids are healthy. Polio, Small Pox, Typhoid, Whooping Cough and Measles are almost or completely eradicated in our lifetime. Most children never have to see the inside of a hospital for themselves or visit with someone who has to go through chemotherapy, dialysis or organ transplant. But there are children that, through no fault of their own, must face what is unthinkable to most. In spite of the turmoil of emotions they feel dealing with illness, adversity and setbacks, they have a zest for life.
Yet, 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 so that they don’t feel so alone. 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.
We plan to make White Bear available via White Bear’s World, an ambitious project that is underway providing security, safety and support to special needs kids everywhere. 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