Author, wife, mother, adventurer. Born on March 11, 1942, in Saskatoon; died on May 18, 2015, in Perth, Ont., of ovarian cancer, aged 73.
Shari grew up in Streetsville and Orangeville, Ont., with four siblings, and apparently absorbed her talent for writing by osmosis from our father, Max Braithwaite, who wrote his CBC radio scripts, articles, textbooks and a series of novels in home offices in those towns. His books, which included a prairie trilogy that began with Why Shoot the Teacher, and A Privilege and a Pleasure about the 1960s social upheaval in small-town Ontario, won him a Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.
Shari began writing for children in the late 1960s while living in a basement apartment in Scarborough, Ont., awaiting the birth of her second daughter. She would go on to write many books – including the well-known Mustang Mountain and Saddle Island series, set in Western and Maritime Canada and the U.S. Southwest – which were translated into several languages and sold more than a million copies around the world.
Her works for young readers reflected her lifelong sense of adventure. After earning a degree from Toronto's York University in 1963 (she was part of the school's first graduating class), she quickly set off to see the world. She went to Africa, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and was rocked, in her taxi, by an angry crowd in Kampala, Uganda, in one of the continent's early anti-colonial revolutions.
Within three years she had made her way to southern California, where she met and married Jeff Siamon in 1966. They moved to Toronto, had three daughters (Amy, Kate and Becky) and Shari began writing for children. Her early books drew from ordinary family experiences; The Girl Who Hated Dinner, for example, was based on dinner-table struggles with daughter Kate, while A Puli Named Sandor was about a very ill-behaved family dog.
Many of her books were aimed at young readers who love horses, as Shari had since her youth. Infatuated with a team of grey workhorses on a farm across the road from our Streetsville home, she would use apples to lure the horses to a fence where she could climb aboard one of them and let it carry her where it would, no harness needed.
Shari's long struggle against fatal diseases began in the late 1980s, when she was diagnosed with primary biliary cirrhosis, an immune system disease that destroys the liver. When she contracted it, it was considered terminal. Thanks to landing on the right side of a double-blind test of a new drug, however, she kept her liver going until 2000, when it was replaced by half of my liver. Living-donor liver transplants were unusual at the time, and Shari's was the first adult-to-adult transplant performed at Toronto General Hospital.
In the summer of 2012, she was diagnosed with cancer. Her determined battle with the disease ended a life that had always been open to adventure. After her liver transplant, she rode horses through the Canadian Rockies, explored the sites of the Arthurian legend, and toured the U.S. Southwest while researching her novels.
Their family had moved often over the years, and Jeff and Shari eventually wound up in rural Sharbot Lake, Ont. There, Shari made fast friends of her farming neighbours, dodged the black flies, and produced an astounding quantity of excellent chokecherry jelly.
Chris Braithwaite is Shari's brother.