Writing Children’s Book Helps UAMS Employee Work Through Grief

By Kev' Moye

Located on the other side of the room was Walker’s daughter, and the sisters heard her holding a conversation. However, they knew there was nobody else with her. They also knew the young girl didn’t have an electronic device that would allow her to talk to someone.

So Walker stopped visiting with Helen, and asked her daughter, “Are you OK?”

She responded with, “Yes ma’am. I’m fine.”

Walker then took a breath and said, “Who are you talking to?”

The daughter answered, “My friend Ookie.”

At that moment – back in 1998 – while sitting near her sister, Walker had an epiphany.

“When my daughter said who she was talking to, it clicked in my mind to write a children’s book,” she said. “When I got home, I wrote one.”

Walker – director of admissions and student relations for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health– named the book My Friend Ookie Can. She wrote the book for children Pre-K to third grade. A fan of Dr. Seuss, Walker used rhyming words and phrases throughout the book.

But after she finished her first draft, Walker left it alone. In fact, years passed before she would pick up My Friend Ookie Can again.

An unfortunate development prompted Walker to continue working on the book.

Her sister had become sick with a neurodegenerative disease. To help her cope with her sister’s illness, Walker began to edit My Friend Ookie Can.

“During that point of Helen’s illness, I started downloading books. I also started flower gardening and vegetable gardening,” she said. “But I still needed one more outlet. That’s when I thought about writing books again. Things just flowed for me.”

“I started by going back to My Friend Ookie Can,” Walker said. “I read over it, tweaked it, made it fit into current society. I then started writing My Friend Ookie Counts.”

When Walker began working on the second book of the Ookie series, she knew her sister would not be around much longer. Throughout the trying times, writing the books provided solace as Walker thought of the kids she’s helping and all the good times she and Helen had.

“My sister died after I finished My Friend Ookie Counts, and I dedicated it to her,” Walker said. “When I was writing that book, she became really ill.”

In fact, writing inspirational and educational children’s books continues to help Walker deal with the loss.

“When I write the books, it gives me something to do that I enjoy,” she said. “It gives me a sense of calm knowing that I’m doing something that will help children.”

The next book in the series – Ookie Knows Alphabets are Delicious – used every letter in the alphabet to teach ABCs, while also promoting healthy eating.

With each book, Walker also designs an accompanying coloring book. She takes pride in helping toddlers get ready for the education process. Through her duties with the college, Walker also enjoys helping adults complete the education process.

“I love helping students and people in general,” she said. “My goal is to always leave a positive impact. It is actually a full circle – promoting reading to children who are beginning their educational journey and assisting students as they are beginning and ending their educational journeys in higher education.”