Shannon Schultz is doing her best to help children celebrate differences.
The Murdoch MacKay Collegiate educational assistant is set to launch her first children’s book, Faith has Freckles and Walter has Wheels. But did you know… with a reading at McNally Robinson Booksellers (1120 Grant Ave.) on Sept. 21 at 2 p.m. Schultz, who writes under the pen name Shannon Dee, made a point of holding the event on the International Day of Peace, as she hopes the book will foster a sense of unity among its readers.
Schultz wrote and illustrated the book, which gives a brief profile of several characters — their differences and talents. Characters in the book have differences ranging from hair colour to Down syndrome to missing limbs.
She initially got the idea from Liz Bruce, who runs the school’s on-site daycare for the children of students. Schultz said Bruce told her it was difficult to find books about children with disabilities, and asked if she’d be interested in writing one.
"It’s about the things we have in common, and we all have something that’s different," Schultz said. "The more we know about each other, the less afraid we are, and the more community we build."
Though the daycare appreciated it, publishers weren’t quite as keen, leading Schultz to self-publish the book. The first printing of 500 copies has already sold out, and Schultz is now working on her second run of 2,000 copies. A portion of the book’s proceeds will go to the War Amps’ Child Amputee (CHAMP) program, among other charities.
The book is an interactive one, as left-hand pages are black-and-white to allow kids to colour in the pictures.
Schultz noted she took real-life inspiration for some of the characters — one is based on her brother, who showed signs of autism growing up. She said he had several stuffed animals, but was unsettled if one was missing, and could recite the entire script of Jaws.
Grade 11 student Abby Turczak is a member of the school’s SCAT (Students Creating Autism Awareness Team) club, and helps Schultz with readings. She has gone to various elementary and middle schools in the area to read the book to students, and will be attending the launch with Schultz.
"She told me she was writing a book about people with differences," Turczak said. "I have diabetes, which I guess could be considered a difference, and then she approached me and asked if I wanted to do this."
"It was kind of cute, because when I was reading it, (the kids) were looking at each other, looking at everybody around the room," Turczak said.
Schultz said she plans to expand on the characters she’s introduced into a new book about different types of families — foster families, adoptive families, single-parent families, and large families, for example. She hopes kids grow along with her books as the reading levels get higher and stories get more complex.
"My thought is kids would start with this (Faith has Freckles…) and the kids will be a little older by the time they get to the next book," Schultz said.