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Helping Kids with Health Problems

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During the eight years that I practiced law, I made great money. However, one important thing was missing–happiness. I saw myself sitting there for the rest of my life and then what? Do I retire at 65 and wait for cancer or a heart attack while rushing to finally enjoy life at its last stages? After some in-depth soul searching, I decided to follow in the steps of several of the greatest influences in my life–teachers–but although I loved teaching, the salary was horrible. After three years as a teacher, I reinvented myself again and ventured on my publishing journey. I believe it is the one that I was destined to pursue.


A Book Is Born

I started with a book about a boy with a heart condition. My nephew had been born with truncus arteriosis (which is when a major valve is missing), my father had had quintuple bypass surgery, and I myself had a prolapsed mitral valve (a.k.a. heart murmur). The book was a silly rhyming tale starring a character with a heart-shaped head.

The book idea grew from stories I had written after my third year of teaching. I showed the stories to kids and even went to libraries for feedback. Eventually my nieces suggested that the boy in the stories have a heart condition because of his heart-shaped head. Since my nephew was born around this time, the heart thing was on my mind. I decided to restructure the stories to be set in a heart-related background.

I needed a title next. My neighbor’s child called me “Sillwee Wobbert” when I played with her. It made us giggle and smile, so I decided to use it.

Based on the positive feedback I was receiving about my writing, I decided to plow ahead and sow my own field of dreams by founding the Dream Publishing Company to recognize the unique needs of children with health issues. After spending a year on the book, which involved a huge learning curve, I printed Sillwee Wobbert, The Happy Heart Kid. That’s when I realized the potential in my niche and how much I could help children.


[subhead] A Responsive Medical Market

I tackled the medical market first, locating individual and corporate donors who would give the book as a gift to young cardiac patients. Soon I had several hospitals taking on books for their pediatric units. The reviews were powerful and gave me the strength to carry on. The manager of a health care company for people with special needs who knew that attitude was everything saw the healing power in my character, Sillwee Wobbert. A former client’s daughter who had bypass surgery found that the book was helpful for understanding her condition and relieving her fears. In addition, it helped her parents by presenting information in a simple format.

Once children’s hospitals, pediatricians, and nurses across America were giving out copies of my book, I engaged distributors, and I discovered that the book’s message was also about tolerance of health differences. Sillwee Wobbert’s heart-shaped head gave him multicultural appeal.

Now I’m not saying that I was making a lot of money. In fact, I was lucky to break even financially. However I got comments from kids each week and I knew that I was making a difference in the lives of these children. This was all that I had asked for and more.

At that point, I didn’t know where to go until health-care professionals who knew the book suggested that I take on more subjects. As a result, I decided to bite the bullet further and create a series, which evolved to feature a multicultural collection of kids.


Multicultural & Multigenerational Markets
The Sillwee Wobbert Picture Book Series on children’s health has books about the heart (each year more than 30,000 kids are born with a heart condition), asthma (more than five million are diagnosed annually with asthma), and diabetes (three million cases a year). Because African Americans are five times more likely to get asthma, the protagonist of Sillwee Wobbert and Wheezing Will in the Big Game is an African American boy, and because diabetes is three times more prevalent in the Latino community, José is the central character in Sillwee Wobbert, Diabetes and José at School and Play.

I began by promoting the series through presentations to elementary schools and expanded my efforts to reach health and sports camps and support groups. Now I’m contacting PTAs or Internet affiliates to promote learning, communicating, and acceptance by all kids about health issues.

Thanks in part to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of June 1997–which emphasizes participation of all children with any health issue in the general education environment and reinforces protection against discrimination of these kids–I find that books like mine are now good supplemental resources in schools and hospital facilities as they are designed to address the hard questions that come with disabilities.

And one other market turns out to be grandparents who use the Sillwee Wobbert books to explain their own health problems. “This is how Nana’s heart works now,” one woman said to her grandson after her bypass surgery.


The End Result

It seems to me that the publishing industry is changing radically and that it has become author-driven. I don’t think the big publishers can compete with the small guy targeting a small niche market. But whether that is true or not, my life has certainly changed for the better. Each day I feel lucky.

Robert Lyles, a.k.a. G. Robert, solicits professional reviews for each book in his series from regional hospital centers that specialize in the relevant health areas. He’s currently working on his fourth book, due early next year, on Down’s syndrome. For more information, contact Robert at 301/592-8225 or
dreampub@mindspring.com and visit http://www.sillweewobbert.com.

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