This week I’m going to shake things up a bit and talk about something not directly related to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Most of us are familiar with some version of the old adage, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” This is especially true for those who experience ongoing challenges in their lives.
I recently reconnected with an old friend, Maryann Cocca-Leffler. Maryann has had a long career writing and illustrating children’s books. Her two most recent picture books, Janine and Janine and the Field Day Finish were inspired by her daughter, Janine Leffler, who as a child navigated life with disabilities. Janine has always lived her life with courage and optimism despite facing many challenges. While Janine is now a college graduate who visits classrooms to speak about inclusion and tolerance, in the books she is a spunky, resilient, self-assured eight year old who is often made fun of by the “cool kids.” Because Janine is inherently kind, upbeat, and amazingly comfortable in her own skin, she earns the admiration, respect, and support of her classmates and always triumphs in the end. These books, which are based on real events in Janine’s life, inspire children to be themselves, to be proud of who they are, and to stand up for those who are bullied. Maryann and Janine sum it up by encouraging everyone to BE SPECTACULAR!
While Maryann had the idea years ago to create children’s books where the main character has a disability, she waited until her daughter Janine was an adult to pursue the project. She felt these were Janine’s stories to tell, not hers. Janine (not surprisingly, given who she is) was on board one hundred percent and has embraced her advocacy role, encouraging others to focus on their abilities, not their disabilities. But it doesn’t stop there. Maryann and Janine educate children, parents, and teachers and because Janine is so willing to talk candidly about her own limitations, she no doubt encourages others to share their struggles as well. Maryann and Janine have also created a website to encourage inclusion: http://janinesparty.blogspot.com/
But the best part? To me, it’s the by-product of HOPE. For children who are hurting, and for parents who are struggling, these books, and Janine, provide a glimpse into the future with the assurance that everything will be okay. HOPE is a great gift for those with challenges. It doesn’t matter what the disability is; we need to believe that we will get through the tough times and the future will be brighter.
I am proud of both Maryann and Janine for being brave enough to share their stories. I can’t help comparing them to those whose lives have been touched by OCD who also willingly share their struggles and triumphs in the hopes of helping others (you know I couldn’t get through a post without relating something to OCD). I highly recommend Janine and Janine and the Field Day Finish for preschoolers, young elementary school students, and their parents. Actually, I recommend these books for everyone. We can all learn a lot from Janine.
Maryann Cocca-Leffler is the Author-Illustrator of over sixty books for kids. As well as the Janine Books, some recent books include, A Homemade Together Christmas and Bus Route to Boston. Also a playwright, Maryann’s award winning play Princess K.I.M. The Musical is based on her Princess KIM books. This National New Play Festival Winner can now be licensed worldwide through StageRights.com. Maryann creates books in her home studio in New Hampshire. http://www.maryanncoccaleffler.com
Janine Leffler is the inspiration for the character JANINE. She lives her life focusing on the positive, despite the fact that she has many challenges in life. She has become a role model to children and adults, as she encourages them to focus on abilities, not disabilities. Like her character in Janine and the Field Day Finish, Janine never won a trophy or came in first place in any sporting events, but she was always number one in her gracious sportsmanship and unyielding focus on personal best. Janine has a BA in Communications and visits classrooms speaking about inclusion and tolerance. She lives and works in New Hampshire.