I don’t usually write about children’s book authors or graphic children’s books. however, Jewel Kats is an incredible individual with an intriguing back story. I stumbled upon her work, an irony, because I never would have imagined I’d go back to reading fairy tales.
I was glad I did; like some cartoons; the magic and fantasy distills the meaning of life in a simple form that’s pure and profound. Fairy tales clarify the struggle between good and evil with hopeful elements of goodness triumphing to an uplifting ending. Very refreshing for our time.
Jewel Kats, a dynamo of fire and vibrance, the advocacy diva of disabilities, is a natural for this storytelling medium. To review her background (in a randomized order): undergoing eight surgeries (after a car accident left her with mobility issues); dropping out of high school; becoming a runaway teen; marrying and divorcing; struggling to confront painful physical and emotional challenges, one sees the magic and shimmer in how Jewel grappled her way to becoming the award-winning children’s picture book author she is today. It’s been like a bit of a fairy tale and she has found in her recent second marriage a true prince of a man and helpmeet to inspire her and be a prototype prince for her work.
However, when Jewel was nine years old, lying in a hospital bed, recuperating from the first surgery after that debilitating car accident put her there, if you had spoken to her and told her that kids and adults one day would be reading her books, that she’d be inspiring many with her humor and realistic grace to persist despite life’s trials and miseries, she probably would have shaken her head and said, “Not me.”
And for good reason. Jewel, by her own admission, could barely write a sentence in Kindergarten and struggled in ESL classes. It was her love for picture books, her attempt to figure out the story from the pictures and her mom’s reading to her that became the seeds of an ill-formed dream, which were planted when she put pen to paper as a 20-something answering a newspaper ad for “high-risk” youth.
The acceptance cascaded a domino effect: she co-wrote Swept-Away, a musical touring show about youth homelessness in which she also acted; that positioned her to write a syndicated teen advice column for Scripps Howard News Service (USA) and The Halifax Chronicle Herald for six years. Getting this position through The Young People’s Press and keeping it viable taught her valuable lessons about understanding her audience, engaging her readers and making a difference. In between she took college courses and workshops and managed to win $20,000 in scholarships One was a $5,000 U.S. scholarship from a women’s book publisher, Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. The other was a $15,000 internship-scholarship award from Global Television Network.
Now this two-time Mom’s Choice Award winner is the author of seven books, five about disabilities, and she has been celebrated in an evening news segment on WKBW-TV, in The Toronto Star, the Buffalo News and the Museum of disABILITY History to name a few.
In my interview with Jewel, I was curious to know about her writing career and how it took off.
What was your first book?
I didn’t seriously put my mind to penning fiction until I separated and eventually divorced my husband of 10 years. The first book I ever wrote was Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair, which was rejected by close to 100 publishers. (Now, it’s my most well-received book!) The first book that got published was Reena’s Bollywood Dream: A Story About Sexual Abuse. This hard-hitting children’s picture book was picked up in the span of a weekend by Loving Healing Press. Eventually, they went on to publish seven book titles of mine! More are to be released by the same publishing company.
This is why I always say it’s important to push for your dreams. I’m living proof that dreams do come true. Not only did Loving Healing Press publish Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair, but they turned it into a unique fairy tale series for kids with disabilities. The subsequent book in the Fairy Ability Tale series is The Princess and the Ruby: An Autism Fairy Tale which is a retelling of The Princess and the Pea only with an Autism twist. My upcoming book, Snow White’s Seven Patches: A Vitiligo Fairy Tale will be out before Christmas 2013, and it’s the third installment in the Fairy Ability Tales series.
Do you only write fiction or do you write in other genres?‘
I’ve also written a graphic novel about my life told in a comic strip format. DitzAbled Princess: A Comical Diary Inspired by Real Life is a reality-series in a nutshell. The whole “cast” of “characters” consists of my family members and those close to me! It used to run as a popular web comic, and resulted in a lot of media attention. To my knowledge, it’s the first regular running biographical comic strip about a woman with a physical disability. Through this book, I try to show the world that life goes on after disabilities. You can be a total “Princess with a Disability,” and have a riot, even though you’re physically different. People with disabilities can reach for the stars — we just grab onto them in our own unique style.
In addition, I’ve also tried my hand at puzzle writing. I was involved in a serious car accident at nine years of age. Following the crash, I was an in-patient for several weeks at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada. Over the years, I’ve had eight leg/knee surgeries. I currently use a wheelchair, crutches and walker to get around. I’ve always taken delight in word search puzzles. However, the drab paper used and non-glamorous formats never appealed to my senses. So, I decided to create a puzzle book of my own! Word Search Divas contains word searches with fashionable themes. The Puzzles are also in unique shapes (i.e. high-heels, etc.) There are also images of super chic fashion models on every spread. This is like an upscale word search book for every Diva in your life. The paper used is even nice!
Have you had down days during your writing life?
I personally don’t struggle with writing. It’s my biggest release. However, I struggle a lot with physical pain. There are days when the pain is so bad that I literally can’t leave my bed and I’m stuck using a bedpan. Luckily, it’s my favorite color — pink — so it’s not that much of an eyesore, lol.
Who have you met on your journey as a writer who inspires you?
Joanne E. Smith inspires me on so many levels. She’s an award-winning Canadian broadcaster, and huge advocate for people with disabilities. She happens to be a wheelchair-user herself. She’s my biggest role model. We met while I was a college reporter, and she was the host of a TV show for the CBC. She graciously accepted my interview request. During that interview, she told me that “having a disability is not a big deal.” I know these words are so simple, but they hit me like thunder. I’d never heard anyone say that before. I always remember her words whenever I endure my own personal life struggles with arthritis, chronic pain and osteopenia. Joanne and I have kept in touch over the years. In fact, Joanne Smith nominated me for the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame this year! She’s already been inducted herself. In my eyes, she’s a star through and through. I call her my “Janet Jackson.”
Jewel Kats will most likely win an induction in the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame, if not this year, she will be nominated until she is inducted. She advocates for the disability community and writes uplifting articles sharing her struggles and her heartbreak with various issues. Her upbeat attitude and joy is the best medicine one can take if you read her work, especially if you know kids who are struggling with a disability and haven’t yet found their stride. The best is that with Jewel Kats medicine, there are no dangerous side effects, only laughter and a smile.