A Kingston mother has become an author in an effort to educate children about families like hers.
Jennie Carr’s book ‘The Best Daddy Belongs to Us,’ helps to explain acquired spinal injury to children by showcasing her own family’s journey. She said she was inspired to write the book after her husband Tyler became paralyzed from the chest down.
“When he was injured, we searched for children’s books with parents who have spinal cord injuries. There were a few that we found with dads in wheelchairs, but there wasn’t anything that was really relatable for us,” she said. The stories mostly focused on genetic mobility impediments, rather than injury, she said, and were formatted more factually than as a narrative.
“I wanted to write a book for any child that is going through the same thing, with a newly injured parent — that transition phase where their parent is not doing the same things with them. They can look in the book and see that it does get better,” she said. “I also wanted to write it for everyone, to open up conversations about disabilities.”
Carr said the story opens with a message from her daughters — Maddie, 6 and Marlee, 4 — explaining that it’s okay to ask questions. “It says ‘I didn’t know what a spinal cord injury was before my dad’s accident,’ and that ‘we’re really lucky to have a dad in a wheelchair. Turn the page to find out why.’”
“And then it goes on — ‘My dad is my best friend. Look what he can do,’ and everything that they feel about their dad.”
She said the book explores the similarities between able-bodied and acquired-injury parents.
“Maddy and Marlee’s dad is in a wheelchair, but they’re still doing things that kids and their able-bodied Dads are doing, still having just as much fun. They have an exciting relationship. Maddie and Marlee would probably argue that they have even more fun, and that the wheelchair has given them opportunities for adventures.”
Telling their story to help others
Jennie said she began thinking about writing her book last year.
“I know a lot of kids are curious and they have questions, and they don’t really know how to talk about it. I wanted to open up those conversations with the children, the parents, the adults that are reading that story.”
Still mulling the idea over in her mind, she said finding her illustrator gave her some momentum. Carr runs a jewellery business, and her illustrator, Lisa Edgley Dirocco, is a client.
“I was telling her about my project… She was buying something from me and we just got chatting. I said that I wanted to find an illustrator and I was kind of searching online at that point, and she said ‘I’ll illustrate your book,’” Carr recalled.
Dirocco specialized in portraits. After trying out a round of cartoon illustrations, they decided to shift towards drawings based on real-life photos of the Carr family. She said the realistic images are more relatable.
Carr has self-published her book and is selling it independently online. She has nearly sold 100 copies and is hoping to start reaching out to stores and publishers.
“I wanted our story to help other people,” she said. “There is a reason we were going through this, and it’s kind of given me some hope that people would be inspired by it, and we can help other families.”
Injury acquired in a fall
In March, 2019, Tyler Carr fell 15 feet from an interior loft when the railing supporting him gave way. He suffered a spinal fracture and, once recovered, transitioned permanently into life in a wheelchair.
“He’s adapted so well,” Jennie Carr said, “It’s really true that kids are resilient. Right away they accepted the wheelchair, it was a natural transition for them.”
Carr said Tyler, formerly a contractor, has not been able to return to work. He took up new hobbies as part of his on-going recovery, including wheelchair rugby, working out at an accessible gym, and sledge hockey.
“With COVID, it’s been a little bit different than before,” she said. “We’re home right now with the girls, doing remote learning, and that is interesting.”
She said they’ve learned to navigate the city in a different way and found the spots where they feel comfortable.
“The downtown needs a lot of work,” Carr said in reference to accessibility. “It’s heritage building so it’s understandable, but we stay mostly in the west end.”
She said she is grateful for the continued support of the Kingston community. “When something like this happens everyone comes together.”