For Keith White Jr., all it took was a teacher’s “yes.”
White, a Cheektowaga resident, had noticed earlier this year that Andrew, the middle child in the family of three sons he is raising with wife Cassandra, was struggling to complete the book reports he had been assigned in school.
White felt moved to help Andrew read and comprehend stories – then write about them.
And, he figured, Andrew might be more motivated to do that if the stories he read were adventures – with the 10-year-old boy himself in the starring role.
“We asked his teacher if I wrote a book, if he could do a report about that,” said White, 32, who works in the parts department at a local auto dealership. “And she said, ‘Yes.’ ”
“I was only going to write one,” White said, chuckling. “Then I just kept on going.”
That moment of inspiration came this spring, when Andrew was in fourth grade.
Now, some four months into his fledgling writing project, White has produced five books for Andrew to use in his class assignments and book reports.
White said he also has written the books for other children – especially those with attention disorders and trouble focusing and comprehending written material – to enjoy.
“All of them have come out since then,” said White, of his beginnings in the spring. “I write one a month.”
The books are short chapter books, with a twist: At the end of each chapter, a drawing – one that can be used as a coloring page – illustrates elements of the story that has just been related.
White said he decided to include the drawing and coloring spaces as a way for Andrew – who, according to Keith and Cassandra White, has been diagnosed with motor and tic disorders as well as attention deficit problems and hyperactivity – to get a break from reading and a chance to reinforce concepts for better understanding.
“He was just having trouble reading,” said White. “He’d read and he’s just – he couldn’t concentrate. He’d be zoning out.
“I figured, if they were about him, he’d remember what happened. Plus, there are the pictures to help him remember.”
Keith White, a South Buffalo native, attended Hillery Park Elementary School and graduated from the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts high school, where he studied visual art, including drawing and painting.
The Whites knew each other when they were growing up, but married four years ago after reconnecting as adults. They held their wedding at the Botanical Gardens – on Halloween.
“We were friends for a long time,” said Cassandra White, smiling. She said the couple took the three boys in the family out trick-or-treating at the end of their wedding day – in bridal attire.
But the family has faced challenges as well as fun times.
Within the past couple of years, the Whites said, Andrew – the middle of three boys in the family, which also includes 14-year-old Tyler and 5-year-old Collin – was diagnosed with the tic and other disorders at a local neurological institute.
Andrew had displayed eye-rolling, finger twisting and other behaviors before the diagnosis, his mother said.
Figuring out what was going on with Andrew’s health was a long process that affected the entire family, Cassandra White said.
Her 10-year-old son is doing much better now that his health issues are being treated by doctors and specialists, Cassandra White said. Andrew will enter fifth grade this fall.
“It was like a two-year ordeal,” Cassandra White said.
The Whites said they hope the books written by Keith – which are available on Amazon and other book-seller websites, selling for about $6 each – will help other families with children who have trouble focusing or paying attention to typical books, whether from autism, hyperactivity or for other reasons.
“He wrote the first story because (Andrew) was just having such a bad year,” said Cassandra, of Keith. “He would finish a chapter – and then there would be a picture to color.”
The paperback books are written with settings and themes that reflect Andrew’s interests in real life, said Keith White, whose own interests span video games and books by Stephen King.
“Whatever he’s into in his life, I try to incorporate into the books,” he said.
The first, “Andrew and the Pirates,” features a story involving pirate adventures. “Big Top Andrew” was written when Andrew became interested in circuses, and “Andrew and the Main Event” is about wrestling.
A fourth book, “Sherlock Andrew and the Book Thief,” is written as a mystery; the fifth book, “Collin’s Laundry Day,” has just come out.
“Honestly, not one of these has ended the way I thought they would,” said White, of the books. “I just start writing. It kind of writes itself.”
White said he has received great support in his writing from his employer, the West Herr company. He even had a signing at a recent company event. He has another signing at 5 p.m. Saturday at the ESW Meltdown at the St. Johnsburg Fire Hall in Wheatfield.
White said he has no plans to stop writing his “Andrew” adventures. He wants to help his family. And now, he wants to help others, too.
“The hope would be, kids who are like him, who have similar issues. Attention problems,” said White, of the audience he is trying to reach. “Because a lot of kids don’t want to read.”
“I would hope it would get kids interested,” White said. “I would hope it would boost their confidence.”