When Sheila Campbell's daughter was 10 years old she came home with a story that disturbed Campbell greatly.
"There was an incident where somebody was being bullied because they lived with a grandparent," Campbell said. "It's disconcerting as a parent to see that kind of bullying because really, all that matters is that they (the children) are being taken care of and they're with someone to cares for their well-being and loves them."
It disturbed her to know that kids could be so cruel to someone because their family structure is unconventional and she wondered if there was something she could do about that.
This urge was further sharpened when Campbell became a surrogate mother for a child that would have two dads.
Along with that beautiful baby boy was born the concept for Campbell's first book, Family Day: My Family is Special
Born in Etobicoke and raised in Huntsville, Campbell came to Sault Ste. Marie to attend Sault College. She graduated from nursing in 2005, made the Sault her home and worked here as a nurse in various capacities for almost 20 years.
She has always been interested in children, how they think and what they care about.
"I feel like, if a child can read these books and understand the things behind them, then that's really all that matters."
As a mom of five children, she has had more than a few occasions to deal with difficult topics with children and found a distinct lack of material aimed at children that would help them understand things like unconventional family structures, the death of a pet, a family member or the birth of a younger sibling.
So, in 2018, she decided to try to fill that gap.
"I've always wanted to write books, mainly children's books," she said. "I noticed that, especially with my surrogacy, there were a lot of questions because people didn't understand the family structure. The fact that the baby was going to a family with two dads raised a lot of eyebrows and I feel that, in this day of age, that shouldn't really be an eyebrow-raising process."
The first three of her children's books were self-published in quick succession late in 2022.
"With my first book, I wanted to write about atypical family structures and bring a light to that topic," she said.
Her second book, Macaroni's Best Last Day, was inspired by a family hamster, her husband's dog, grief and love.
"We lost our pet hamster, which to most people is not a significant pet, but our hamster provided what we called hamster therapy. Every time someone in the house would feel sad, they would start playing with the hamster and the hamster would make them happy," she said. "It was really sad and, when I met Brian (her husband), I did not want to get close to Hades (his dog) and be saddened by his loss when his life ends."
She tried to separate herself emotionally from the dog but Hades wouldn't have anything to do with that. He loved her and she had no choice but to love him back.
"I just thought that it would be nice for Hades to have that best last day if the time ever comes," she said. "We don't get that opportunity every time."
By dealing with her feelings for Hades she found a way to explain them in ways children can understand. She hopes the book will also help children cope with their own feelings more effectively and in a healthy way.
"In my experience, I've had parents that have tried to shelter children from the sadness of it - to try and act happy... like nothing happened," she said. "They tried to get them (the children) to move on and not be sad about it but, in my opinion, honouring the pet would, I feel, emotionally equip them better to deal with the grief of the loss.
"I've always thought it's okay to be sad, to cry and to show emotion," she added. "There are topics that children can handle and we don't really give them that credit."
Her third book is called Mama's Having a Baby and it is about a boy who is very close to his mother. He finds out she is having a baby and feels like he is going to be replaced.
As with the other two books, this one is aimed at children and Campbell hopes to make the transition from baby to older sibling easier for them with it.
"I spend a lot of time with children," she said. "I like to talk to children and see how they feel about things - to try and figure out where their minds go when major things happen."
Campbell created digital graphics and layered them to produce the illustrations for her first three books but she is going in a slightly different direction for her planned fourth book.
She's going to produce the illustrations by hand.
"That's a first for me," she said with a laugh.
Her fourth book will be about the death of a young girl's grandmother and will begin at the grandmother's funeral.
As the story develops, the girl decides to create a memory book about her beloved grandmother and the times they spent together. When she shares this book with her parents it helps them cope, too, and the family grows stronger together sharing happy memories that honour the deceased grandmother.
Campbell said she is open to producing more books on other topics as they arise but doesn't have any specific ideas, yet. For now, her main concern is to get the book into the hands of as many children as she can.
"I wrote them to help children, not to make money from them," she said.
She's hoping school libraries, daycares and families will find and enjoy her books.