Woodville child writes books amid life without parents
Published 12:07 am Sunday, October 4, 2015
When you step into 8-year-old Summer McKenzie’s room, the gigantic image of a fairy tale princess on the wall is likely the first thing you’ll see.
It’s not surprising.
Like many 8-year-olds, Summer is an imaginative, smiling girl who loves Disney princesses.
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Life has been no fairy tale for her, though.
When Summer was just 3, her mother, Rochelle McKenzie, died from complications of lung cancer.
Summer remembers her mother as being good and also recalls a visit to a counselor about her mother’s death when she was in kindergarten.
“I think it was because I was talking about my mama all the time,” Summer said.
Her father, Shedrick McKenzie, is serving time in a federal prison in Memphis, Tenn., for charges he faced in connection with a 2011 Medicare scam. Soon, he will transferring to a prison in Montgomery, Ala.
He’s been in prison since Summer, a third-grade student at Wilkinson County Elementary School, was 5. He’s set to be released to a halfway house in July.
Whenever Summer visits her father, they play cards, color and read together.
Before Summer could read, she would pick up a book during visits with her father and tell her own version of the story from the pictures.
It gave Shedrick an idea.
“My dad said, ‘Let’s make a book,’” Summer said.
At first, Summer wanted a mermaid story.
But during a visit to see her father, a conversation Summer had with a woman standing near the vending machines changed Shedrick’s mind. When Shedrick saw the woman talking to Summer, he asked Summer what they talked about, Shedrick said.
The woman had asked Summer where her mother was.
“Summer said, ‘I told her my name was Summer McKenzie, and my mama is in the Jesus sky, and I live with my grandmama,’” Shedrick said.
So the mermaid story was put aside, and Summer’s first book — “Summer’s World” — became less of a fairy tale and more a story about Summer’s life.
The book is about Summer’s day-to-day life, school, her visit to the counselor and trips to see her father in prison.
When her father went to prison, Summer’s paternal grandmother, Brenda Davis, stepped in as her legal guardian.
“She depended on him totally,” Davis said. “He would take her to school. She was his baby. He loved her to death.”
Summer misses her dad, too.
“Summer’s World” ends with Summer yearning for her father to come home.
Being away from both her parents has made Summer sad.
“I haven’t been with them in a long time,” Summer said.
Shedrick said it has meant a lot to him to help Summer experience writing a book and hopes the book means something to others as well.
“The book should inspire any child that has a deceased parent or an incarcerated parent,” Shedrick said.
And Summer didn’t forget about the mermaid.
“Summer in a Mermaid Tale: Lost at Sea,” Summer’s second book, features Summer as a mermaid and her heroic rescue of a dog that has fallen overboard on a ship.
Summer’s mother has special place in both of the books.
A star is drawn on the book covers in memory of Summer’s mother, once in the background of “Summer’s World” and on Summer’s T-shirt in the mermaid tale.
“It’s like her mother’s watching over her,” Davis said.
The books were published this year through Midnight Express Books, Shedrick said, a company that helps inmates self-publish books.
Summer’s books are available for purchase on Amazon for $9.95 in paperback and $2.99 for the Kindle edition.