Retired special needs teacher and middle school counselor Maria Nichols (thanks to help from niece Hollie C. Young, nephew Michael Craighead and Craighead’s friend, Danielle Reed) can cross ‘write a children’s book’ off her bucket list.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to do a children’s book,” Nichols said.
After having to put down their horse of 25 years, Nichols and her husband were eventually ready to get a new horse, who was previously intended for barrel racing. One problem: “He doesn’t care to run,” Nichols said. Inspired by new horse Houston, Nichols penned the children’s book “Houston, The Barrel Racing Horse…Who Didn’t Like To Run.”
Young helped to co-write the story and came up with the idea of having “the ‘Where’s Waldo?’ style green apple worm that you can find somewhere on each page of Houston’s adventure,” she said. Craighead and Reed illustrated the book.
The members of this creative team have some pretty strong ties to the Salem area: Nichols graduated from Andrew Lewis in 1971, when it was still the high school; Young graduated from Salem High School in 2000 and currently lives in Roanoke (her two children–Kylie, 4, and Maggie, 6–acted as the focus group for the book, Nichols said); and Craighead and Reed also graduated from Salem High School and currently go to school at Virginia Tech and Radford, respectively.
Nichols got some advice from another local children’s book author, Carolyn Nelson, who told her, “If you give it time, it will unfold.”
“Last Christmas, we started talking about it,” Nichols said. “It just kind of flowed.”
“The children’s story was really a neat experience to watch unfold,” Young said in an email Saturday. “Maria was truly the driving force behind the book so I was able to come in and help develop and solidify some of the details that you see in the final product…I have always dreamed of publishing a book–although without my aunt’s lead and her ability to really focus and direct the timeline of events that have to take place in order to see a project like this actually come to fruition, I don’t know if I would have been lucky enough to actually see this day come.”
Like all children’s book authors, Nichols and her team hope the book does well. But they have more than fame and glory motivating them.
“Five dollars of each book sold will be donated to Unbridled Change Therapeutic Riding Center,” Nichols said. Unbridled Change, located in Boones Mill, Va., helps to “provide quality mental health therapy, educational learning, character and life skill development, and therapeutic riding utilizing Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT),” according to their website.
Michelle Holling-Brooks, owner of Unbridled Change, hosts an annual fundraiser for the organization in October. The 2012 event, however, was canceled; Holling-Brooks, while pregnant with her second child, had a heart attack.
“Houston” was published in October 2012 and has sold almost 400 copies. So far, Nichols has been able to send $540 to Holling-Brooks–which has already helped to cover the cost for a five-year-old child with autism to take therapeutic riding classes.
“Houston, The Barrel Racing Horse…Who Didn’t Like To Run” is available at several locations: Countryside Classics, located at 120 E. Main St. in Salem; Lourine’s Beauty Salon, located at 355 E. 3rd St. in Salem and noteBooks & Black Water Loft, located at 117 S. Locust St. in Floyd, Va.