Artist, therapist team up on kids’ motivational book - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Artist, therapist team up on kids’ motivational book

August 20th, 2021 development
Artist, therapist team up on kids’ motivational book

By Paul Maryniak 
Executive Editor

Though their occupations are very different, Lisa Sterne of Glendale and Suzanne Whitaker of Ahwatukee have spent years engaging and inspiring children.

Sterne is a master’s level therapist who specializes in child development and parent-child relationships while Whitaker is an artist and muralist who has painted dazzling murals in corridors and classrooms of elementary and middle schools throughout the Valley.

Now, they are collaborating on a series of four picture books to help kids ages 7 to 13 turn some of the challenges typical for their age into opportunities for developing a strong sense of self.

Written by Sterne and illustrated by Whitaker, all four books are focused around a cat named Onyx.

Their first book, titled “What If I Try? A Book About Creating Yourself” and due out next month, addresses the frustration or timidity that can arise when a child wants to achieve a goal or skill that may initially elude their mastery.

“It’s basically the idea of speaking to kids about what do you do when you aren’t so good at something but you want to give it a try or you want to learn about it,” Sterne explained. “Or where do you go to ask for help to learn more about something you’re interested in but you might not be ready for yet?

“So, it’s helping kids deal with those insecurities and encouraging them to just do what makes them happy even if they aren’t that good at it. Who cares? Maybe you won’t make the choir but you can still enjoy singing, for example.”

Sterne said such self-doubt and frustration often fronts children who are diagnosed autistic or with an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Sterne believes that empathizing with children and earning their trust is the key to their healthy development, even in spite of trauma.

This book and the series will focus on building resilience and communication, both of which develop children with a strong sense of self, she added.

For example, the second book will deal with sadness while the third will focus on feelings of being overwhelmed by life and the fourth will address uncertainty.

Once Sterne completed her first story, she needed an artist to illustrate it. She looked no further than Facebook, where she had met Whitaker through several shared interests.

Sterne not only saw Whitaker’s work but also had seen a drawing of her pet black cat, whose name is Onyx.

Soon, the project was set in motion.

“What was really funny was Lisa and I met and I told her some of the rough ideas that I had for each page and how to break it out; it was not the way she saw it,” Whitaker recalled.

“So some of the things were really easy to visualize – like some of the words that she had. I knew what Onyx would be doing in that situation. And some of them were a little harder to get to, and had to be reworked a couple of times.

As Onyx grapples with his own insecurity, he gets inspiration from animal friends all cast by Whitaker with the same kind of inventiveness and warmth that have made the characters on her school murals a hit with legions of kids.

Assisting the two women in publishing and marketing the first of Onyx’s journeys is Nadeen Hathaway of The Marigold Agency, which specializes in business growth strategies.

Whitaker also credits Hathaway with helping the flow of the book and the intermingling of Sterne’s words and Whitaker’s images.

While the book won’t hit the market until next month, Sterne and Whitaker have launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise $7,000 to create enough copies to donate to schools and nonprofits that work with children.

Indiegogo is a platform where creative people raise funds for works in progress and so far, Sterne and Whitaker are about a third of the way to their goal.

On Indiegogo, people can buy the book, make a donation toward its wider distribution and even buy stickers and totes bearing Onyx’s face.

To order the book or help Whitaker and Sterne with their plan for its mass distribution, go to or