An Ottawa teenager struggling with extreme anxiety has faced her fears on paper. 17-year-old Shay Escander is publishing a children's book about anxiety that will soon be in every elementary school in Ottawa. She read it yesterday to first graders at Churchill Alternative School.

For someone who's struggled with anxiety all her life, walking into a classroom full of kids isn't easy.

“As soon as I came in and conquered that fear,” Escander says, “I felt so much better.” 

Shay settles in front of the kids, who circle around her on the classroom floor. 

“So my book is about something called anxiety,” she tells them. Escander is giving voice to her fears through a little character she calls "Zoe".

She begins to read to the class “Now Zoe was next and she felt a strange feeling, like her stomach was rising up to the ceiling.”

The book, entitled “No Show, No Tell” is written and illustrated by Shay and tells the story of a first grader too scared to "show and tell".

“There was a circus performing inside her tummy and boy did she feel just plain crummy.”

They are feelings the first graders understand.

“When we had a talent show at our class,” one little girl comments, “we had to perform on the stage and that made me nervous.”

Another boy adds, “when my closet's open at night time and it's really dark.  That's what makes me scared.”

They are feelings Shay identifies with, too. Growing up, she felt sick all the time at school, finally wouldn't go anymore.

 "All the stress and worry of what people think and what I’ll be able to do, it shuts me down.”

Her mother saw her daughter withering away, worried at times about losing her.
“She was sick all the time,” says Leanne Escander, “I don't feel good, my tummy hurts mommy. It's been really difficult.”

Shay now attends Norman Johnston Alternate high school.  With the help of her teacher and a Ministry of Education grant called Speak Up, she wrote and published her book.

"Shay's been transformed this year,” says teacher Julie Chouinard, “she's attending school, finishing another credit, she's in my office doing class work, she's really re-engaging.”

Her mother can see that transformation.

“Look how well she did today,” says Escander’s mother Leanne, struggling to hold back tears, “she wrote a book and she presented and she's okay.”

In her story, little Zoe is empowered by her reading buddy who gives her a magic wand.

“Zoe now understood  it's okay to be scared and felt a lot better knowing someone else cared,” reads Escander to the class.

Shay knows there is power in words.  Her book, she says ,is her magic wand.

Shay's book will soon be in every elementary school in Ottawa.  She's also working on her next children's book about a boy who cyber bullies.