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Waco-area author uses children's book to prompt disability conversations

Waco-area author uses children's book to prompt disability conversations

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Sometimes it takes a better question to lead to a right answer, and Stephanie Wolfe hopes her new children’s book “Authentically Addie” leads to lots of right and kind answers.

Addie is her 6-year-old medically fragile daughter who requires a tracheostomy tube and a ventilator to breathe. She and Wolfe were out at an event when they met another mom with her two children and one made “a comment that was not very kind,” Wolfe said.

It rattled the Lorena mother, who found herself thinking how that encounter could have gone better.

“I realized how important it is how to ask the right questions,” she said.

Being a veteran blogger, she posted her thoughts that night under the title “How To Speak To My Daughter.”

The feedback from her readers indicated the former first grade teacher had hit on something. Many parents wanted to know a good way to handle a similar encounter with their children and another child with disabilities.

“We’re taught as children to look away, not to stare, to ignore someone with a disability,” Wolfe said. “But it’s not a bad word. It’s not something to be afraid of.”

A children’s book could help spread her message, but it took another encounter in February 2020, one with a published friend during a hospital stay for her and Addie, that turned the idea into action.

“I thought if my friend could write a book, I can, too,” she said.

Rather than a book aimed at parents, Wolfe wanted a children’s book that could pull both into a conversation on a subject sometimes awkward to bring up.

“I wanted to write a children’s book normalizing disabilities,” she said.

She pitched the idea to publisher 26th Street Publishing and, with an eye for teachers wanting something that could address their science, technology engineering and math curriculum requirements, began research that she could weave into her story.

In her story, Addie in her wheelchair visits a special zoo with animals that not only have disabilities, too, but use a device or aid that helps them. An elephant with hearing loss uses a hearing aid, for instance, while a monkey has a prosthetic arm. In her visit, Addie meets animals with autism, cerebral palsy, blindness and more.

“It just gives parents an opportunity to talk about the tools each uses and requires to help them,” Wolfe said.

She submitted her manuscript last summer with a request that the book’s illustrations be bright, colorful and cartoony. The publisher contacted Jordan-based Noor Alshalabi, who sent the author some samples. She was delighted.

“She absolutely illustrated what was in my mind,” Wolfe said.

Alshalabi’s illustrations were finished by December, and the finished book became available for sale March 3, including through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Within days, “Authentically Addie” was topping charts: No. 1 on Amazon.com’s Children’s Books on Disabilities and Children’s Zoo Books.

Parents thanked her for providing a way to discuss disabilities with their children. And for some families, reading a story about another kid with a disability proved affirming.

“Parents said their children feel seen in literature now,” Wolfe said. “What I have found it’s not so much a children’s book as a book about people.”

Part of the book’s success comes from Wolfe’s considerable online following. She moved to Waco from Corpus Christi in 2008 after becoming engaged to Mathew Wolfe, who works for the Texas Farm Bureau. Readers followed her through engagement, wedding, marriage, Addie’s birth and years of challenge in grappling with their daughter’s medical condition.

Addie was born with a chromosomal translocation that resulted in hydrocephaly, epilepsy, impaired vision, deafness and breathing problems. Her first 10 months were spent in neonatal and pediatric intensive care units, Wolfe said.

She said her readers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, the Waco Moms blog and her website, thevintagemodernwife.com, combine for some 100,000 followers and have followed her through her life as a mom, which expanded three years ago when she and Mathew had a son, Lawson. Readers also have supported her commercial venture in selling essential oils.

“Our readership knows us,” Wolfe said.

The author will meet her Waco fans and readers at an “Authentically Addie” book signing from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Fabled Bookshop & Cafe, 215 S. Fourth St.

“There will be a book reading and then there will be cake,” she said.

Wolfe is also planning on more “Authentically Addie” adventures in the years ahead.

“We want her to live life to the fullest. That is something we want to experience,” she said.

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