New book helps children move forward

Each resident of Fort McMurray has a unique account of May 3rd, 2016; the day an out-of-control wildfire, nicknamed “The Beast,” ravaged the city and forced a mass evacuation. Though each experience is different, everyone at some level was affected, including the youth of Fort McMurray.

book cover

Ann Reilly was a 25-year resident of Fort McMurray and a certified Child Therapist who went through the evacuation. Now living in Edmonton, Ann’s experience during the escape to safety and the months that followed led to the creation of The Beast and the Salt Water Potion, a book tailored to help youth deal with the trauma caused by the fire.

The Beast and the Salt Water Potion is a platform for parents and adults to bring forward the child’s view of the experience and help them to make sense of what they went through,” said Ann. “Stories have been used throughout the ages for children to help them integrate an experience.”

The initial idea for the book started in September following the fire when Ann was working with a Fort McMurray child who was experiencing multiple behavioral issues as a result of the fire. She decided that a story would be a helpful way for the child to process his experience. Ann talked to the child’s parents and gathered details of the family’s escape to safety. From there she developed a story modeled around the child’s experiences during the fire, which she read at a family session. During this time, the parents provided support to the child, clarified information and helped normalize feelings. This technique sparked an idea in Ann’s mind.

“I decided that maybe this small story could be expanded upon to help other children in the community,” said Ann.

And that’s exactly what Ann did, resulting in The Beast and the Salt Water Potion. The story is centered on child elves locked in a school.

“This is an opportune place to explore what was happening for the school aged child,” said Ann “how they sensed that something was happening. What they thought. Did they know why they had to stay in the school? What did they want most at that time?”

At another point in the book the elves encounter a road being cut-off.

“This could be a family point of discussion: What was everyone thinking and feeling at this time, finally getting out to a place away from the fire?” said Ann. “Possibly watching it on TV or the news and then planning the return home.”

The book also addresses the different defensive responses, through the elves, that children may have experienced as a result of the fire. Ann does suggest that parents read the story themselves first and notice how they as adults experience the story before reading it with their child.

Ann Reilly

On top of providing this helpful resource for parents and children, Ann is graciously donating one dollar from every book sold to The United Way of Fort McMurray.“As a long-time resident of Fort McMurray, I wanted to give something back to the community from the story,” said Ann. “I felt that allocating the funds to United Way would better serve the community.”

Copies of Ann’s book, The Beast and The Salt Water Potion, can be purchased locally at Dave Hill Pharmacy and Keyano College Bookstore. It is also available on and from Ann directly at


Author: Meaghan Szpak

Meaghan has earned her degree in Public Relations from Iowa State University and has returned to work with The United Way of Fort McMurray. Her interest in the social profit sector brought her to the United Way last summer when she worked as an intern. Although she has spent the last few years in the United States, Meaghan is not new to the community of Fort McMurray and considers it home. She is excited about interacting on a daily basis with the people and agencies who give back and help make her home community a better place. In her free time Meaghan loves taking road trips, exploring new places and hiking new trails, all with her husky by her side.