PB: How siblings process disability in their family
Hi, I’m Keely.
I enjoy writing picture books and have a MG project dream that I work on from time to time.
I live a quasi-pioneer life in the Inland Northwest. Not really, but can snowy, suburban Spokane please count as a pioneer life for this transplant from the South? I am raising 4 crazies and trying to write often and well. In general, I find this an impossible task.
I am a member of SCBWI (where would I be without them?)
Bio picture books with bright illustrations (Melissa Sweet is an all-time favorite)–extra points for the stories that prompt me to do web searches after I’ve read them to find out more. Lyrical rhymes that I don’t tire of reading time and again to my children. For younger crowds, I enjoy even single-word texts on the page (Nest by Jorey Hurley, for example).
I love classic stories and often lament the ever-shortening word count for picture books. I recognize this isn’t a clear answer to this question. I think one thing I struggle with when reading to my own children is the introduction of highly sensitive topics in a manner that I don’t find to be very age-appropriate. While I am interested in refugee stories, for example, and want to introduce this to my kids, I often find that for my more sensitive child these topics can trigger more fear than understanding.
Evangeline’s older sister, Salem, is not like many big sisters. Salem has autism and cannot use her voice to speak. She gets angry for reasons Evangeline can’t understand, and Evangeline struggles to feel her sister’s love. Through a conversation with her mama, Evangeline explores how to interpret different non-verbal and highly unconventional expressions of love and how to offer them in return to her elder sister. HOW MY SISTER SAYS, “I LOVE YOU.” is my first picture book, a story of 374 words.
Our own family’s foray into the world of disability began when our eldest daughter was born. Now 12, Salem is nonverbal, and yet she has so much to say! In search of a book that could help our family with some of the more complex dynamics of disability, I was disappointed with titles that tried to gloss over the pain with lines like, “My sister never hits me or pulls my hair!” This was an especially confusing message for our own family, because these are precisely the sorts of behaviors our children frequently field from their often-frustrated eldest sister. And yet Cynthia Lord’s wonderful Newberry Honor-winning MG book Rules and others like it are too old to benefit our younger children.
A member of SCBWI and two local critique groups, I enjoy retreating with our four children to the work of some favorite children’s authors, including Michelle Knudsen, Melissa Sweet, Kadir Nelson, Karma Wilson, Anna McQuinn, and Simon James.
I aspire to write works for children that allow readers to explore the challenges of the world, recognize that some situations are painful, and that joy can be claimed in the midst of them. My broader hope for this work is that it would transcend disability and beg readers of all abilities to pay attention to how different people express love in different ways. I have several additional completed titles available, upon request.
HOW MY SISTER SAYS, “I LOVE YOU.”
By Keely Leim
My big sister, Salem, isn’t like most other sisters. Salem can hear what I say, but she uses sign language to talk. A lot of the time she’s upset. Sometimes when she’s happy or when she’s mad, she makes noises I don’t understand.
I ask my mama, “Why does Salem hit me sometimes?”
“I’m sorry she does, Evangeline. Often when she pulls your hair or hits, Salem is trying to tell you something,” my mama says.
“I wish Salem could talk like the rest of us.”
“Me too, love. But Salem understands what we say, and she has her own ways of speaking. What would you want her to say to you?”
“I wish she could tell me she loves me.”
“Sometimes she does tell you, but it’s a little harder to hear,” Mama says.
“When? When has she told me?”
Mama gathers me into her lap.
“Well, Salem tells you when she lets you sit in her room and swing in her therapy swing.
And she tells you when she joins us outside and looks for bugs under rocks while you play. And she tells you when she hears that you’re sick and asks me over and over again with her hands if you need to go to the doctor.”
“It’s hard to hear, Mama.”
“It is,” Mama agrees. “Sometimes it helps if we listen together.”
Mama tucks some loose hair back into my braid and says, “Sometimes I’ve seen you tell Salem that you love her without using words.”
“You have? How have I told her, Mama?”
“I see you tell Salem when you unbuckle her seatbelt for her. I see you tell her when you ask her how her day at school was. I see you tell her when you pack one of her favorite books in your suitcase or when she blows out the birthday candles on her cake, and you clap for her.”
Salem walks up to us and points at me. She signs the word “sad.”
“Salem sees I’m sad, Mama. Is she telling me she loves me now?”
“Yes, baby. I think she is.”
Mama pulls Salem onto the couch beside us and puts her arms around us both. We sit there quietly.
“I hear you, Salem. I love you too,” I tell her.
I enjoy rhyming books for kids and have a couple in process (but the meter is a real mess). These are more humorous–a much lighter tone than above.
Here are some best practices for reaching out to a potential CP:
- Include the link to your own CP Match profile! You can find it on your Dashboard. Don't have one yet? What are you waiting for? Anyone with a WriteOnCon.org account can make one!
- Introduce yourself a little, and say what appealed to you about their listing.
- Respect what's listed here in their profile. They took the time to fill it out, and they've included this information for a reason. Don't send a message about a book they specifically say is a Hard No, for example.
- Offer to swap a small sample of your works, so you can see if you're really compatible. First chapters are a good starting place.
- If one party no longer wants to continue the interaction, it's nobody's fault. Sometimes finding the right CP takes time.
Happy writing and CPing!