By: Chanda Temple
Sherri Graves Smith always thought she’d be that doting mom who read bedtime stories to her children before tucking them in at night.
The bedtime stories never came for Smith, but she does still manage to help children have sweet dreams.
The Atlanta-based author writes children’s picture books that feature college mascots such as Big AL of the University of Alabama and Aubie of Auburn University. The mascots teach children about the alphabet, counting and manners. With titles such as Aubie’s Game Day Rules and Counting with Big AL the books are part of an ongoing series that’s published by Mascot Books Publishing Inc.
“I find it extremely exciting to read the book and to interact with children and see them laugh or watch them smile. Sometimes, children will come up to me and say I’ve written a really sweet book,’’ says Smith, 41.
The University of Alabama graduate started writing her first book, Big AL’s Game Day Rules, in 2011 after two bouts with cancer left it too risky for her to have children. Then, one day while undergoing chemotherapy, an idea hit her — write a children’s book using Big AL to teach children about manners.
At the time, the poisoning of the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn, Ala., was in the news. She didn’t think that what one fan did to poison the trees was very sportsmanlike. She thought it would be good to show children how to have good sportsmanship. A lawyer by trade, she did a lot of research on how to write a book and get it published.
She ended up hiring someone to lay out her first book and hired an illustrator to give her samples to pitch to a publisher. When she submitted her complete package, the publisher was impressed.
As she prepared for her book to be published in November 2012, Smith decided to custom fit the concept to other school mascots. She secured approval to use mascots from other schools and incorporated them into their own books. She created books in which the mascot taught children about their ABCs and 123s.
When her first book was released in 2012, it was available in Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million and amazon.com. Today, her books can be found in nearly 60 stores in five states.
“I’m in hospitals, Christian book stores, boutiques… and the Atlanta International Airport,’’ Smith says. “That’s one thing I’ve been really excited about, how it’s really grown.’’
To date, Smith has written 25 books for 15 schools in the SEC and ACC. In the fall, she will start writing books for the Big 10 schools. In the works are books for the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. She’s also looking at doing books for historically black colleges and universities.
Also in the fall, she will launch the first of three books about a 6-year-old, African-American girl filled of encouraging messages of joy, hope and love. The first book from that series will be titled Is My Cup Empty?
Smith said that writing the mascot books gave her the opportunity to combine three of her many loves – reading, children and Alabama football. Each book is specific to a college, highlighting campus landmarks and the school mascot. She said the concept has been a hit with parents, children and alumni.
“When people go through a devastation in life, they don’t think they have anything left. But I had a whole new world open up that’s been very fulfilling,’’ says Smith, a Tuscumbia native who graduated summa cum laude from the University of Alabama in 1993 with a degree in finance. She was in the top 1 percent of her class. In 1996, she graduated from Samford University’s School of Law.
Staying in the game
In 2007 at the age of 36, Smith was an attorney for Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, where she was being considered for a promotion and a company move to Vienna, Austria. She welcomed the opportunity.
But soon, everything changed. Following a routine visit to the doctor, Smith learned she had Stage 4 colorectal cancer. The news came hard and fast, just like her treatments.
She started an aggressive round of radiation and chemotherapy and had two surgeries.
Treatments left her drained, tired and thin. She had to learn how to eat again. Times were tough but she endured with the help of family, friends and prayer, she says.
In November 2008, she got married and later went on her honeymoon in March 2009. She wanted to start a family with husband Charles Smith, and she went to see the doctor for a checkup. The news wasn’t good.
Doctors had found a spot on her lung. They ordered a biopsy. The results showed that the cancer from her colon had metastasized to her lungs.
She stopped work and resumed treatments. She was also told that if she got pregnant, neither she nor the child would survive the birth. Adoption was also not an option because of everything she was experiencing at the time.
As disbelief set in again, Smith again turned to God.
“I asked God to give me strength and peace to walk this journey. I asked Him to help me to feel His presence and comfort,’’ she says.
Today, Smith said, her condition is considered chronic, but she keeps on pushing.
She undergoes chemotherapy five days a week and writes in her spare time.
Her long-term disability has expired and she no longer works at Coca-Cola. But she still finds time to help raise money for the nonprofit organization, Atlanta Cancer Care Foundation, which uses a large part of its funding to help Atlanta-area cancer patients who are financially burdened.
Smith said her objective is to stay well, stay in good spirits and stay focused to help others.
“Every day that I wake up, I think, ‘Well, God has given me another day. So I try to use that day to the best that I can,’’’ she says. “While there is still life in me, I want to use it for a good purpose. That’s what really keeps me going.’’
For more information about Smith’s books, go to http://www.gamedayrules.com.