Regina McCarthy didn't set out to write a children's book.
As a trained holistic psychotherapist, McCarthy, 54, has spent her career in the social work field, helping people of all ages heal and work through tragedy. In the early 2000s, she opened her own practice, Blue Stone Healing Center in Elgin, where she blends traditional and innovative methods that focus on her clients' mind, body, emotions and spirit.
For years, McCarthy's husband would tell her, "You've got a story in you." But the Sleepy Hollow resident never truly considered becoming an author until she woke up in the middle of the night with an idea.
"I've never had that happen to me before," McCarthy said. "So I got up, got my laptop and started writing. I wrote all night long. I didn't have the details. I just had the idea for the story."
Four years and several edits later, that idea was developed into "Courageous Gilbert the Groundhog," a children's book McCarthy has been promoting at schools, libraries and events since it was self-published last August.
"What I wanted to do was make a children's book about the concepts that I was learning as an adult to explain them to kids so they could understand this form of healing," McCarthy said, noting she wishes those lessons were available to her as a kid. "That's why I wrote it."
The book, illustrated by Elgin resident Sue Dettman, centers around Gilbert, a shy groundhog who has trouble making friends, is uncomfortable reading his book report to his classmates and gets picked on by the class bully. After running across the playground to escape a situation that made him upset, Gilbert befriends an oak tree, who offers him advice on dealing with the bully and making himself feel better.
Gilbert is taught deep-breathing exercises that calm his nervous system. He stomps his feet or yells into his hands to release his emotions -- all basic techniques McCarthy uses to help her clients manage their emotions and handle tough situations.
On the surface, the techniques seem simple, said Jenn Pagone, one of McCarthy's clients who eventually started integrating those techniques into her work as a trauma therapist in Schaumburg. In reality, she said, the concepts can be difficult to grasp and implement in a person's daily routine.
"(McCarthy) took the breathing and all of these complex things and packaged them in a very digestible and very safe (book) for children," Pagone said. "She was able to use these techniques that are hard for adults to use, and with the openness that children have, she's able to reach them and help them learn these skills."
Since the book was published, McCarthy said she has gotten positive feedback, particularly from teachers and school social workers. She read the story to classes at such schools as St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School in West Dundee and Parkview Elementary School in Carpentersville.
She won a Mom's Choice Award, and her book is being sold online by Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She's continuing to fill her schedule with local book readings, including one at Dundee Library on Monday and another at Van's Frozen Custard & Burgers in East Dundee on Tuesday.
McCarthy said she also has several ideas for expanding "Courageous Gilbert" into a series of "psycho-spiritual children's books," which would touch on topics such as how a bully becomes a bully, individuals with special needs and meditation.
"The challenge is to make those concepts not complicated," she said, "make it so everybody can understand."