WNBA champion Tammy Sutton-Brown got to see the world outside her living room as a girl growing up in Ontario, Canada. A descendant of Jamaicans, she would sometimes travel back home to the island. Then there were always the memorable trips to Disney World in Florida.
Unfortunately, it's not like that for all kids. After talking to children at a community-service event, Sutton-Brown realized how out of the ordinary traveling and, in some cases, knowledge about the world are for many kids.
"I mentioned to the kids how I played [basketball] in Istanbul, and they had no idea what or where that was," Sutton-Brown said. "That's when I got the idea to develop a book that would help these kids see the world without leaving their town."
That was the moment in 2011 that her children's book series, "The Adventures of Cree and Scooter: A Global Series," was born. The books and their vivid drawings are geared toward children 3 to 8 years old. They are the product of Sutton-Brown's imagination, and of Orlando-based illustrator Joel Cruzada. The main characters are Cree, who, with her big brown eyes, afro-puffs and megawatt smile, is an adventurous mini version of Sutton-Brown; and Scooter, a magical lizard who comes alive at night in Cree's dreams.
"I love kids and believe they come into the world as a blank slate. As adults we are the ones who can make such an impact on a kid's life," said Sutton-Brown, a 12-year WNBA veteran who has played the past six seasons for the Indiana Fever.
The books are designed to teach kids worldly thoughts and phrases like bonjour.
Through Cree and Scooter, Sutton-Brown wanted to give children the chance to see all the countries she's seen and learn their languages and customs without feeling like they were in a classroom. Sutton-Brown, who played college ball at Rutgers, has been to Turkey, Russia, South Korea and Australia during her career.
"If it wasn't for basketball, I wouldn't have gone to a place like Russia,"
Sutton-Brown said. "It's not the most glamorous of places and it's freezing cold, but it's one of my favorite countries. I've enjoyed the people I've met, my experiences there and learning about the different cultures and traditions. Chances are the kids won't go there either, but they can go with Cree and Scooter."
In the first book of the series, "Cree and Scooter Hit the Slopes in British Columbia," the duo goes skiing in Canada. In book two, which will be released in 2013, Cree and Scooter climb the Great Wall of China.
Future books will whisk kids away to Scooter's home in Madagascar and to other faraway lands.
The biggest challenge for Sutton-Brown in producing Cree and Scooter is simultaneously promoting the book and playing basketball. During summer WNBA season, her Cree and Scooter promotion slows down, and the offseason usually means overseas play.
"This is a lot different than playing basketball, but I am enjoying the challenge of adding 'author' to my list of accomplishments," Sutton-Brown said.
After finishing last season as a champion with the Fever, Sutton-Brown has no plans to play overseas during this offseason and will put that same sweat equity into Cree and Scooter. Currently she has launched the "Think of Me" campaign, in which the characters encourage parents not to text and drive, especially with young children in the car.
Now that Sutton-Brown has captured that elusive WNBA title, she hopes her success on the court will transfer to this charitable campaign and to her imaginary friends on the shelves.
"I call Cree and Scooter my babies," she said, "and they are going to teach the world's children about the world."