Annie is a little girl who is just like other kids. She has a family – a mom, a dad, a big brother, a big sister and an uncle and grandma, too. And she loves them very much.
Annie is more like kids her age than she is different. That’s the message Heather J. Scharlau-Hollis, the author of the children’s book, “Meet Annie,” was trying to get across.
The character of Annie was inspired by her 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Annika. Annika has Down syndrome.
“I wrote it as therapy for myself, but it ended up being more than that,” Heather said. “I wanted to educate people.”
Heather said she had no idea what life would be like when doctors told her that Annika had Down syndrome.
“It took me about two to three weeks to get over the initial hump of depression,” she said. “I felt like I was living someone else’s life…it was like watching a Lifetime movie – only I was the Lifetime movie.”
“Now I look at it and I think I shouldn’t have been so upset,” she said.
Heather wrote the book while waiting in Annika’s hospital room after one of Annika’s multiple surgeries – she has undergone 10 since birth for an assortment of physical problems, from hernias to a rare heart deformity. Annika is tube-fed, and takes numerous medications every day.
Heather said most of the materials she read about Annika’s condition were rather dark and depressing.
She was given a “big, thick book” on Down syndrome and learned that age range for walking could be 9 months to 6 years. That children who have Downs have an 80 percent greater chance of getting leukemia than a child who does not have Downs. Then there was the huge list of physical problems that accompanies the condition.
“I thought, ‘Can somebody just tell me something good?
“There’s not anything out there (that’s positive),” she said. “It’s all sad stuff.”
That’s when Heather came up with the idea for “Meet Annie.”
She said she thought, “It would be nice to give parents a book like this – something positive for the future.”
In simple language, and with the assistance of colorful drawings by a Tate Publishing illustrator, she describes a day in the life of a typical little girl. Annie loves, eats, gets messy, needs help, gets mad, gets scared and – yes, she even gets in trouble.
“(Annika) still gets in trouble like my other kids,” Heather said. “She knows what she’s doing, even though she communicates it in a different way.”
Heather has taken copies of her book to schools in her hometown of Beloit, Wis., to share her story and hopefully help kids understand that kids are just kids, no matter how they look, learn or understand things.
She said it was difficult to take Annika out and about – but now she does it anyway.
“People used to stare continuously,” she said, adding that parents who have children with special needs often “just don’t go anywhere.”
“We do a lot of things. We go to the mall, we go out to eat,” she said.
Her family life is a learning experience every day. “There’s no book to tell you what to do,” she said.
Heather said publishing the book was almost a fluke – she sent it to five publishers, and Tate Publishing and Enterprises agreed to publish it.
“It was surreal to me,” she said. “(And) if this one goes over well…they’ll ask me for my second book.”
“Meet Annie” is available through amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, or directly through the publisher at tatepublishing.com.
Those who purchase the book can download a free audio book from the publisher’s Web site as well. Heather’s 10-year-old daughter narrated the book.