CUYAHOGA FALLS – In a modern world, children have fears, but when their anxiety makes it difficult to get on a bus, go to school, spend the night with a friend or go to camp, it can be crippling for both the child and a parent trying to help.
Carol Wulff wrote "William, The What-if Wonder On His First Day of School" and 2017 Woodridge High School graduate Clare Willett illustrated the children's book.
The self-published book will be highlighted at the Summer Local Author Exhibition from 1 to 3 p.m. June 30 at the Fairlawn Barnes and Noble, 4015 Medina Road. Wulff will read her book at 2 p.m. and Willett will attend. The book will be available for purchase and personalization.
The story is of a young boy struggling to conquer his fear and anxiety about the first day of school, Wulff said. He is bothered by his pestering "What-if" thoughts causing him only to see disaster ahead. When he realizes he has the power to push the unhelpful what-if thoughts away, William turns his day around.
Willett and her mother were visiting Wulff when she shared her book and the frustration with finding someone to illustrate it.
"I wanted the illustrations to look like a normal kid with anxiety," Wulff said. "I interviewed a ton of people but their drawings didn't reflect my little boy."
While Carol described the character of William to her mother, Willett drew her version in pencil.
"I've been drawing since I was young," Willett said. "It was a knack I had and grew stronger over the years."
At Woodridge High School, Willett took the basic art classes of drawing I and II, but her talent shows in the 26 colorful illustrations in the book.
"I based his emotions on my own," Willett said. "I have some nasty anxieties, and when I'm at the peak, I have this blank expression — the world doesn't exist at that moment."
Willett said she could sympathize with William and the suggestions in the book for dealing with anxiety.
"Carol loved the character so much she asked me if I would be interested in illustrating her book and I said yes," Willett said. "I went ahead and did the outlining and finer details in marker. Then I used watercolor and colored pencils for coloration."
On average she completed two pages at a time but it took her a year total because of her classes and sports, she said.
Willett attends Malone University in Canton and is majoring in zoo and wildlife biology. She interns this summer at the Akron Zoo and will be working with the junior volunteers.
"I enjoyed working on the book and would definitely do it again in a heartbeat," Willett said.
"William, The What-if Wonder" is the first book written by Wulff, who lives in Medina.
Wulff said her son struggled to get on the bus, go to sleepovers and every new event.
"Other parents said he'd get over it," she said.
By the time he was ready to enter middle school, she worried he'd get beat up and took him to be tested, Wulff said. He was diagnosed with general anxiety.
"He worried himself to death," Wulff said. "What if they forget me at school? What if I miss the bus? Every page [in the book] is a reality for my son."
Recently Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers talked about his panic attacks and television host Carson Daly talked about anxiety. These celebrities’ discussions about their own struggles makes people more aware of the problem, she said.
Wulff said she was unaware of the depth of her son's struggles, but anxiety is a physical overload.
"Your brain races and your logic doesn't kick in," Wulff said.
Her son would worry about forgetting his gym clothes and get up in the middle of the night and ask her if he had his gym clothes.
Board Certified Pediatric Psychologist Margaret R. Mauze contributed to the book and the use of cognitive reframing to help learn to recognize worry versus reality.
"For me it was a labor of love," Wulff said. "William recognizes he has the power within to conquer his pestering what-if thoughts and manage his anxiety more effectively."
She saw her son use the same techniques.
"When he went away to college, which I never thought he would do, I could see the worry on his face and he was using the strategies," Wulff said.
She hopes the book will help other children learn to manage anxiety.
Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or email@example.com