Jennifer Brooks
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Once upon a time, during the coronavirus pandemic, a little girl named Cameron had a story to tell — at a social distance.

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Cameron, age 6, is the hero of a new children’s book, written by her mother, Sheletta Brundidge, and set to hit bookstore and library shelves next week.

A lot of things that were supposed to happen in the next few weeks won’t happen. The big launch party for “Cameron Goes to School” is canceled. Her grandma and aunties can’t come to celebrate. The schools are closed, the libraries are closed, the bookstores are closed.

Instead of coming together to read, everyone scattered away for safety.

That wasn’t the end of Cameron’s story.

It was just the beginning.

“The publisher just called and said, ‘Uh, Barnes and Noble just ordered 400 copies of your book. We had to up production,” Brundidge said with a laugh this week.

She’s an Emmy award-winning broadcaster and host of WCCO Radio’s “Two Haute Mamas” show, but this is her first book. It tells the story of a little girl with autism — her little girl — as she starts kindergarten.

The middle of a public health emergency is terrible timing for a book launch. But Brundidge was reluctant to ask the publisher to delay the March 27 release date.

“Autism awareness month is April, and these kids are not going to stop having autism in April,” she said.

As more and of daily life shut down, people warned her, “Sheletta, nobody’s going to buy this book.”

But then she visited the neighborhood library in Woodbury.

“The shelves were as empty as the toilet paper aisle at Walmart,” she said. “Parents had books piled up in the kids’ hands.”

Parents were scouring the bookshelves, desperate for anything to educate and entertain the children who were about to be homebound for as long as it takes a pandemic to pass.

“Look,” library patrons told Brundidge when she asked. “We read all the books we wanted to read last week on spring break. So we’re just getting all the books we can, because we just gotta have something to do.”

Brundidge ran back to her car, grabbed a stack of “Cameron Goes to School” promotional fliers, and started handing them out. Some parents, she said, whipped out their phones and preordered on the spot.

She wrote the book she wanted her own children to read. Soon, other kids can read it too.

This is the story of Cameron, who didn’t understand kindergarten at first, and the kindergartners who didn’t understand Cameron.

“Friends at school were having events and fun stuff and sleepovers and she wasn’t getting invited,” Brundidge said.

The other kindergartners thought Cameron was mean. They didn’t understand that she wasn’t talking to them because she couldn’t talk to them.

“They would try to engage her in conversation, but she couldn’t say anything,” Brundidge said. “So they were like, ‘She doesn’t want to be our friend. She’s mean.’ She was ostracized.”

Three of the four Brundidge children are on the autism spectrum, and their mother wrote this book — and plans to write many more — to help other children understand and enjoy them as much as she does.

The book, she said, “is not just for kids with autism, it’s to educate their classmates.”

Midway through kindergarten, Cameron had a breakthrough.

She started talking. She figured out the classroom rules, such as lining up for the bell. By the end of the year, she was out of the special education classroom and learning with the rest of her peers. She made Kindergarten Student of the Month.

There will be no book launch party on April 10. No crowds, no cardboard cutouts of the Cameron illustrations from the book.

But Cameron still gets to tell her story. On April 10, she’ll do a reading of her book via livestream on her mother’s Facebook page. Everyone will be reading together while staying apart.

For now, the Brundidge house is full of laughter and even more full of children. Brundidge is watching the children of friends and neighbors who have to keep working with schools and child care closed. She’s doing it free, she said, just like neighbors used to watch out for her while her own mother worked.

“This is standing in the gap,” she said. “This is looking out for each other.”

You can pre-order “Cameron Goes to School” on sites such as Amazon. But if you really want to stand in the gap, you’ll get a copy from a local bookseller such as Red Balloon Bookshop (redballoonbookshop.com) or Moon Palace Books (moonpalacebooks.com) that could use your help right now.

jennifer.brooks@startribune.com 612-673-4008 • Twitter: @stribrooks