Janine and the Field Day Finish, the latest follow up to Janine, was inspired by author/illustrator Maryann Cocca-Leffler’s daughter, Janine.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Maryann and Janine to chat about Janine and the Field Day Finish, inspiration, and optimism.
Q: What was your inspiration for Janine and the Field Day Finish?
A: Maryann: Janine and the Field Day Finish is the sequel to the first book, Janine., which introduced this spunky character. Both books and the ideas behind them were inspired by my daughter Janine, who as a child with disabilities focused on the positive while navigating life.
“Being a winner is not always about being number one” is the message in Janine and the Field day Finish. The event behind the book was actually not on a field but in a pool. It went like this: Janine has CP (cerebral palsy) and has difficulty with all sports. When she was about 8 years old, after years of physical therapy and private swimming lessons, she finally learned to swim. At the local pool “Swim Meet” she was determined to swim one length of the pool. It was a relay race. Janine was dead last and soon the only child left in the pool. Most people cheered her on, but I heard several negative comments: “Who let her on the team?” and “Now they‘re going to lose.” As a parent, I was saddened by these remarks. When Janine touched the end of the pool, we were thrilled, as was Janine. She did it! I then noticed that several kids were crying because they didn’t win. That moment stuck with me. For Janine and for many children, it is not about winning, it’s about finishing, it’s about supporting each other, and it’s about trying your best. In Janine and the Field Day Finish, I expanded the storyline and recreated this moment on a school field instead of a pool, so that all children could relate.
Q: In both books, you never mention what exactly Janine’s disability is. Why?
A: Maryann: This question was the center of many editorial discussions. From the beginning I thought it was important not to mention the disability. First off, every person, child or adult, wants to be seen as the person they are, not a label. Secondly, in reality, kids don’t care! They relate to each other as kids. Every child has weaknesses and strengths and everyone needs help now and then.
Q: How does using inspiration from a real person differ from a character that is imagined?
A: Maryann: Unlike an imagined character, when I write and draw the Janine books, I need to be true to my then eight-year-old little Janine. I keep asking myself: how would “kid” Janine handle this? What would she say? What would she wear? I look to my (now 31-year-old) daughter Janine for character guidance, but as her mom, I can bring myself back in time to visualize her spunkiness and her quirks, and pay homage to this courageous, happy child. Even today, Janine has a great attitude about life, never complains, and is always supportive of others, even when she doesn’t “make the team.”
Q: Janine, why did you give your mother permission to create a character based on you and your experiences?
A: Janine: I hope by sharing my story I will inspire others to be more tolerant and accepting of people’s differences and to inspire children who have disabilities. In the Janine books one of the big lessons is self-advocacy—standing up for yourself and loving who you are. Another is standing up for those who are being treated unfairly. These are very important messages to share with students in any age group since bullying is such a prominent issue these days.
I grew up with various disabilities and challenges. Instead of being down on myself, I have spent my whole life focusing on being positive and thankful. When people had doubt in me, my faith in myself has remained strong. Someone recently asked me, “If you could erase your disabilities, would you?” My answer is a big NO. Sure, I’d like to be able to drive, but my disabilities have made me the person I am, and I don’t want to change. In the words of “book Janine:” I LIKE ME!
I hope kids learn to love who they are and don’t feel pressure to change to fit in.
Thanks, Maryann and Janine! Get inspired by “book Janine” in Janine. and Janine and the Field Day Finish. You can also enter to win a copy on Goodreads. Find out more about Maryann on her website and about Maryann and Janine’s goals at www.Janinesparty.com.