The Story Behind the Story ...
and the real pictures that inspired the cartoon ones.
Gracie, just a couple of weeks before diagnosis.
Gracie and her sisters.
Gracie and "guard dog" Roo two weeks after Gracie was diagnosed.
Gracie getting her hair cut off prior to it falling out due to chemo.
Gracie and her sister "chillaxing" while Gracie gets chemo via her port.
Hi! I am Elizabeth Billups, author and illustrator of The Puddle Jumper's Guide to Kicking Cancer. It's wonderful to meet you ... at least via the Internet. :)
My daughter, Gracie, was diagnosed with Leukemia when she was nine years old. (I am thrilled to report that she is scheduled to complete her treatment in just a couple of months, just before she turns 12 years old.)
A couple weeks into treatment, Gracie and I played a little game to pass the time while waiting at the doctor's office. We tried to come up with a cancer term for each letter of the alphabet, starting with "A is for ANC. B is for blood, C is for cancer, etc." I can't remember how far we got, but Gracie said something like, "You should write an ABC book for kids about cancer." As I am a writer, I immediately thought this was an excellent idea! It would be a fun project for us to work on ... to quite frankly distract us a bit ... but also to hopefully produce something helpful for all children touched by cancer.
Like I said, we started it as an ABC book. Gracie and I spent hours while at the hospital brainstorming ideas, practicing drawing, and quizzing nurses and doctors to find out what every kid must know when they or someone they love has cancer. Then, a strange thing happened. I lost my sketchbook ... the one with ALL of our ideas, the story boards ... everything. I was so upset. After looking high and low at home and in our doctor's office, I just decided to do nothing for a while and take the summer off.
Meanwhile, the ideas that we had generated kind of marinated in my head. Towards the end of the summer, I started to re-create the book from scratch. And after looking at it from a blank slate, I realized a couple of really important things.
I realized that kids will probably enjoy the book much more if the story is told by another kid. And likewise, it will be much more fun to read (for both the kids and the parents!) if it's a story and not just a cute glossary.
So next came, "What should we call it?" (Always one of my favorite parts of writing a book!) I thought of Gracie's Guide to Kicking Cancer, but I started thinking that it would be better to come up with a more generic name for Gracie's character so more kids can relate to her. And the name needed to describe someone who is like Gracie and so many of the kids we've met so far who are battling cancer. It needed to be someone who is fun, childlike, optimistic and brave. And who better to showcase these characteristics than the intrepid puddle jumper who splashes and laughs in the rain instead of staying inside and complaining about it?
Funny enough, about a week or two after we decided to change the book from an ABC story to a first-person story, I found the missing sketch book! Even though we had all looked, it had apparently been at the doctor's office all the while. But it turned out to be a great and mysterious thing for which I am now very thankful! If I hadn't have lost it, I may never have found our brave and inspiring Puddle Jumper.
Below are some real pictures of Gracie, Roo and our family ... and the Puddle Jumper pictures which were inspired by the real pictures. Thanks for reading and remember ... cancer is tough, but together we are tougher!