A former Brandon University education student has had her first children’s book published.
When Nikki Bergstresser held the first hard copy in her hands, she cried. "Seasons for Stones" brought several years of rejection before Brandylane Publishers Inc. picked it up.
"When I would get rejections in the beginning, it was really tough," Bergstresser said from her home outside Vancouver. "You had to get a thick skin."
In her writer’s journal, where she kept track of all her rejections, she found, two years ago, that one of her daughters had written: "You can do this." On another page: "Keep going. Don’t give up." More recently, her other daughter told her, "Mom, you’ve taught me I can have a dream and work really hard to get there."
Bergstresser came to children’s writing because of a love of books instilled in her from an early age. She is the daughter of two retired Morden teachers who surrounded her with books. Her father wrote. Then, as a teacher, in the absence of appropriate material to bring into the classroom related to what she taught, she simply wrote material herself.
Bergstresser conceived "Seasons for Stones" approximately six years ago when her father was diagnosed with cancer. She lived in British Columbia with her young family and couldn’t return to Manitoba, but she wanted to support her father.
"The idea came to get stones and paint powerful, positive, inspirational words on each one. And because he loved flowers, I also did little flowers on them," Bergstresser said.
She packaged them all up in a burlap bag and a box, and shipped them to her father. On treatment day, her father pulled a rock from the bag.
"He said that was the word he focused on and it helped him to just keep positive through the treatment. And it helped us to keep connected," she said.
"And, they had neighbours, my mom and dad, living beside them on either side. They just took over everything, like shovelling their yard and bringing in some things that they’d need."
Those real-life details led to Bergstresser creating her young heroine — the nature-loving Tilly. The young girl has a heavy heart at the beginning of "Seasons for Stones." Her neighbour, Mrs. Miller, isn’t well, and she doesn’t know what to do about it.
"Then, instead of feeling helpless, she decides to be helpful," Bergstresser said.
"What starts out with her just painting one rock and delivering it is the catalyst to her seeing the bird feeder needing filling."
Tilly fills the bird feeder, and leaves a stone on her neighbour’s front step every day. Other neighbours witness this, and begin to help Mrs. Miller, as well, as a cycle of seasons unfolds. Come spring, Tilly finds Mrs. Miller outdoors in her garden, with Tilly’s message stones carefully placed in the yard. Tilly asks Mrs. Miller if spring is her favourite season.
The elderly woman replies: "Each season is special to me in its own way. But some seasons in our lives are harder than others. Tilly, you gave me words that filled my heart. There was no room left for any words that scared me."
Bergstresser said she understands now why the book’s publication was delayed.
"The timing right now is the right timing for this story to be told," she said.
Showing kindness to people and being aware of other people’s journeys are important messages as a pandemic unfolds. Bergstresser said it’s easy to become absorbed into our own life and situation, and being aware of what others are going through matters.
"We don’t have to do grandiose gestures. It’s just those simple little acts of kindness can live in the heart for a lifetime."
Bergstresser has another children’s book coming out in 2021 with Cardinal Rule Press — "Lila Lou’s Little Library." This young heroine has too many books and her mom says they have to do something about it, so she builds a little library out of a massive tree stump in her yard.
As well, in February, Melange Books is publishing another Bergstresser creation, this one a collaboration with Denise Jaden, called "Saving Heart and Home," about seniors living in an assisted-living home who are trying to find a man for their beloved nurse.
To learn more about "Seasons for Stones," interested readers can view a promotional video, filmed by one of Bergstresser’s former students, at bit.ly/34sYC1Y
» Michele LeTourneau covers Indigenous matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.