I had been simmering on this book idea for a while. I've met a lot of older people new to limb loss who wonder how the young people in their lives will react. I was born with a birth anomaly called proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD), which resulted in incomplete formation of my hips and femurs. I had an amputation when I was a toddler and have been wearing an above the knee prosthesis since that time. My path is very different than the path of an older person who experiences amputation later in life. At the end of the day, though, we are both living with limb differences. We both encounter young people who have questions.
The grandpa teaches the granddaughter two main lessons. The first lessons is how to approach a nervous chicken. Fear is contagious and tone matters. The second lesson involves an old cracked that still works just fine. There is beauty and purpose in who we are and how we are.
I'd love to think that a parent or grandparent will be cuddled up with a child, reading this simple story and talking about the illustrations. I wonder what kind of questions will come up. Will the child even notice the prosthesis? Will this help open up a discussion in a gentle way?
Drawing has always been a part of my life. I come from a family of artists. I remember when my brother, Billy, showed me how to draw a three dimensional mermaid tail with pencil. That took some practice... lots and lots of mermaids. I loved watching my mother design dolls, drawing out the body patterns, sculpting the faces, sewing the elaborate clothing. When I visited my Abuelita in Miami, I would marvel at the tiny wooden dollhouse furniture she carved, complete with the most delicate miniature hand crocheted blankets and table covers.
There were artists in my neighborhood too. I remember the day I learned about foreshortening. I was sprawled on the sidewalk with a chunk of pine bark in my hand, struggling to sketch a horse on the cement. Like most young kids, I drew four rectangular legs, all the same size, jutting out from the horse's belly. Our neighbor, Mr. Gonzalez, walked by and told me, "If you draw lines here," he pointed, "and make these two legs shorter, it will look like a real horse." He was right.
Art was all around me, but what was lacking in the 1980s were images of kids like me... kids with limb differences. That was before the Internet and the only amputee I'd ever seen on TV was Terry Fox, the Canadian athlete who embarked on a cross-Canada run to raise money for cancer research. I don’t remember having ‘fun’ watching that movie. As a little kid, I thought it was sad. Important, but still pretty sad.
Like most kids, I drew what I knew. I drew mermaids, thanks to Daryl Hannah in Splash. I drew monsters, thanks to Ray Harryhausen's Clash of the Titans. And I drew kids with one leg. It felt so good to see those one-legged characters staring back at me.
Drawing people with limb differences became ‘a thing’ for me. No matter how my style or the medium changed, this theme would remain a constant thread in my artwork.
As a young adult, I became more interested in how writers and illustrators approached the issue of disability in children’s books. My 1999 college senior thesis (I'm dating myself now) explored the representation of children with disabilities in children's literature. That was the first time I attempted to write an original story with a one-legged character.
Soon after college, I began working in the prosthetic and orthotic field. It was then that I realized the importance of using artwork to help educate patients, families, and those around them. Though Just Like Us: A Coloring Book Celebrating Children with Limb Differences was only published in recent years, I drew most of those images in 1999.
It’s funny when life comes full circle. I feel like the little 1980s me would be really happy about what I’m doing.