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Sharayah Lane was born in Seattle but only five years old when she moved to Bellingham to be near the rest of her family on the Lummi reservation. And although she lived inside of Bellingham city limits, she attended the tribal school, and did all of her youthful running around on the beaches and islands bordering the reservation.

Lane didn’t plan on becoming an author, but she has always valued reading and writing. One of her first memories of writing centers on winning a national poetry contest while attending tribal school, and the thrill she felt then still makes her smile today. “It’s a vague memory — I don’t really remember what the poem was about — but I thought that it was pretty cool,” she says.

On paper, things looked good for Lane’s school career. She was part of the gifted and talented program and is remembered by her yearbook as always helping other students with their homework. But Lane also struggled with the difficulties she and her family faced living in poverty, and all the challenges that come with it.

Despite testing well and being a voracious reader, Lane decided to drop out during her 10th grade year. She did, however, sign up with Job Corps, a free training and education program that helps low-income young adults learn trades. “More than anything it exposed me to different cultures for the first time. I would go to different places, like Portland or L.A., and be exposed to different walks of life and different parts of the world,” she says. “It was just like being in a melting pot, with people from all over the map.”

Lane wrote the book with a tone and cadence that would keep kids coming back for more. Photo courtesy Sharayah Lane

Growing Outside of Whatcom

After the priceless experience she gained, Lane was asked if she planned on going to college, and she remembers her immediate response. “No, that ship has sailed. Like, you don’t even want to see my transcripts,” she says. Nobody in her life, or in her family, had been to college, and Lane hadn’t learned yet that she could earn a GED and start her journey at a community college.

After clearing a hurdle or two, she enrolled at Seattle Central College, where she found another new set of people from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, and religions. Soon enough she enrolled in the University of Washington’s journalism program, learning what reporting could look like in the internet era, including new multimedia models like podcasting and editing video.

“There was one person who was all about video journalism, and now she’s all over Instagram, doing great,” Lane says. “There was another guy that specifically wanted to do sports writing, and he’s doing that now. I started to learn about policy, especially the intersections of policy and social justice.”

In the mid-2010s, subjects like police accountability and the Black Lives Matter movement were a major part of the news cycle. “What was really important to me was taking things that might be really complex, or might feel out of reach for some people, and simplifying them, getting to the essence,” she says. And though she does not work as a journalist, she continues to display that same desire and drive in the writing she does today.

Sharayah Lane’s book is the product of inspiration, followed by large amounts of polishing and perfecting. Photo courtesy Sharayah Lane

Starting a New Chapter

Lane brought her experiences and her accomplishments with her back to Bellingham, where she leads the life of a working mother fully engaged in her community. And although she didn’t expect it, inspiration was waiting for her. “I heard about this idea, that if you’re having a hard time or not in a good place, you can go through the alphabet, naming something that you’re grateful for with each letter, and that can change your attitude,” she says.

Practicing gratitude has become more widespread in recent years, even trending on social media. It might be tempting to dismiss it as backhanded bragging or ‘feel-good’ platitudes, but modern medical research is proving that taking a moment to think about what you have to be happy about has real and measurable effects. It can improve sleep and the immune system, and lessen anxiety and depression, chronic pain, and the likelihood of disease.

This healthy habit, and using the alphabet as a prompt, struck Lane as a natural fit for a children’s book — and she had just seen for herself how helpful ‘A-B-C books’ were for her son. But she admits that she didn’t know where to start. “There are so many things to consider, like ISBN and illustrators and distribution and publishing and all this stuff. It’s just overwhelming,” she says. But she has a friend and mentor in Seattle who had written a well-received children’s book and was happy to lay out the steps Lane would take to self-publish.

Spending time with Job Corps gave Lane a powerful new perspective on the world, and the people who make it up. Photo courtesy Sharayah Lane

A Process Full of Intention

To hear Lane tell the story, she spent more time perfecting the book than she did writing it. She knew she wanted to be precise with her word choice, since children are very sensitive to the tone and cadence of words as they’re read aloud. She also remembers how well a child knows whether or not they identify with the story being told. “For example, I was in foster care growing up, and I would see books that talked about how important a mom is — and that wasn’t my experience,” she says. “I remember how important it felt to be able to identify with what I was reading, so I wanted to be very conscious of including things that anybody can relate to.”

She also had a lot of ideas about the artwork for the book. “A lot of children’s book illustrations are computer generated, and they can look great, but I really wanted to work with somebody who was actually drawing,” she says. “And then, of course, somebody who had experience with inclusivity and diverse characters.” She found Artkina Celestin, who had experience illustrating children’s books, and was able to collaborate with Lane and visually interpret the meaning of the book in a truly meaningful way.

The Results

The ABCs of Grateful is Lane’s first title for children, and there are already plans for more. Given the amount of thought she put into its creation, it’s not surprising that she gets a little philosophical when asked about which age range it appeals to.

“I would say from birth — because I think it’s so important to read to babies from birth — to about 10 years old,” she says. “But then, I could say from zero to 100, because I hear that adults get just as much out of it as the kids they’re reading it to.”

The important thing to Lane is that, with a little effort, kids can grow healthy alongside their parents. And she’s happy to help.

“My truth is that I have 10 million things to be grateful for, but if I’m upset, I can’t seem to find one that I can actually feel,” she says. “So here’s a template, something to start with.”

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