|Shea Megale and mom Megan read from a copy of Marvelous Mercer as part of a book launch held at FAO Schwarz in Manhattan in September.|
The title of 12-year-old Shea Megale’s book is Marvelous Mercer, and it refers to Shea’s dog, a 5-year-old Labrador/golden retriever cross by the same name. Since 2004, Mercer has served Shea as a service dog and, more importantly in Shea’s eyes, as a companion and best friend, and he most certainly is marvelous.
Every bit as marvelous as Mercer, however, is Shea herself.
A seventh-grader at Stone Middle School in Chantilly, Va., Shea lives in Centreville with parents Larry and Megan, sister Kelley, 18, and brother Matthew, 17.
Shea’s parents learned she had spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) when Shea was 18 months old. Shea doesn’t let muscle weakness stop her from doing the things she wants to do, though — she uses a power wheelchair to get around, with Mercer padding dutifully along at her side opening doors, turning on lights and picking things up for her.
Mercer, Shea tells people, has two sets of legs — one set for him and one for her.
“I’ve written all my life,” Shea says, adding that she doesn’t know at what age she started but that, “I guess it was when I was very young.”
Shea kept some of her work in a diary, which Megan Megale found when cleaning Shea’s closet in November 2006.
“In it she had written six little stories about adventures that Mercer went on,” Megan says. “I realized she was trying to experience things through Mercer.”
Shea’s uncle, Curt Wagner, created illustrations for the story that would become Marvelous Mercer, in which Mercer sneaks out at night after Shea goes to bed and learns, along with a few of his doggie-neighbor friends, how to ice skate. Although a publishing company was interested in publishing the book, Megan chose to self-publish it instead.
“It was critically important to me that the message be Shea’s story of Mercer, and how proud she is of Mercer and the difference he’s made in her life,” Megan explains.
Megan, Shea and Mercer traveled to New York in July 2007 to present Shea’s book to representatives of FAO Schwarz at the famed company’s July toy audition.
“We left there with a deal,” Megan notes.
Marvelous Mercer will be part of a six-book series comprising the six stories in Shea’s diary, to be sold through the FAO Schwarz stores, catalog and Web site.
On Sept. 29, a book launch was held for Marvelous Mercer at FAO Schwarz, with Shea reading from the book and signing copies as Mercer waited patiently nearby.
It was fun and exciting for Shea, who enjoyed seeing many friends and family members turn out for the event.
Marvelous Mercer is available through FAO Schwarz, which also offers a plush version of Shea’s furry companion. The book also can be purchased at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and Target, Megan says, with proceeds going to SMA research and to Canine Companions for Independence (the organization responsible for training and pairing Mercer up with Shea).
Shea refuses to let the cat out of the bag regarding details of the other books in her series, but does admit getting her book published and knowing people all over the country are buying and reading it has been an interesting and exciting experience. She says she definitely intends to write more books in the future — perhaps a novel.
“It was actually kind of a big shock going from just a kid to an author,” Shea notes, adding, “It’s a great accomplishment.”
Mercer, for his part, is taking his celebrity status in stride. He still sleeps in his kennel near Shea’s bed at night and loves to eat table scraps. As for any adventures, fictional or real, Shea says, “He’s happiest when he’s with his family.”