In the summer of 2000, my friend Sheila Kelleher asked me for help with a project. She was working at the Hennepin County Medical Center at the time, and saw firsthand how a lot of young children were terrified of doctor visits – and especially of getting shots, of course. She came up with the idea of making a photographic picture book for preschool kids showing everything a child would experience during a typical “well child” visit at the pediatric clinic. Being a skilled photographer, Sheila felt confident about her ability to create the illustrations. But she wasn’t a writer, and that’s why she asked for my help.
It sounded to me like a fun and worthwhile project. Besides, for a long time I’d had thoughts of writing books for children but hadn’t done much about it, and here was an opportunity landing in my lap.
We made some key decisions at the outset:
- We would use a teddy bear as a stand-in for the child and avoid any reference to the bear’s gender. That way the bear could represent a boy or a girl of any race.
- We would use actual medical professionals in their real clinical setting, so as to make the pictures depict what a child would experience as accurately as possible.
- We would confront the scariest part of the visit – the shots – honestly and head-on.
- We would have the bear narrate the story, so we could depict the experience from the child’s point of view.
- As much as possible, we would have the bear making choices and being an active participant, rather than just having things done to him/her.
- We would use a racially diverse cast of male and female professionals in the photographs.
- We would make the story fun to read for both kids and their parents.
Sheila did most of the heavy lifting on the project, which included selling the idea to Hennepin County Medical Center, getting their financial support and permission to use their staff and their facilities. And of course, she did all the photography. Meanwhile, I just wrote the story.
“Well Bear, Brave Bear: My Visit to the Doctor” was finally completed in 2003, with HCMC printing 12,000 copies to distribute to patients in their pediatric clinic. We had the story translated into Spanish, and had the English and Spanish printed side-by-side on every page. In 2005, we printed another 6,000 copies for Hennepin County Baby Tracks, a program to promote and track child immunizations.
Then somehow another eight years went by. We thought about doing a follow-up project, like Well Bear Goes to the Dentist, but that presented more difficulties than the doctor visit. For one thing, our bear didn’t have a mouth.
For years, I’ve intended to put the whole book online for free viewing. I finally got around to it last week. And here it is: