Wild Onion Press took off in 2009 on the mission to change minds one at a time about children (as well as about all creatures great and small) with physical differences. We aimed to do this through literature, believing that a story is a powerful influence on the emotional lives of readers. Remember what it was like to fall in love with a book when you were a child?
No matter if we “fell in love” with the main character of Lassie, Jo in Little Women, or today’s Harry in Harry Potter, we transferred that affection and admiration to a real-live person whom we met–or will meet–along the way in our own lives. That’s the idea behind Wild Onion Press. Our heroic characters just happen to have a physical difference, yet they drive the story, save the day, are funny, adorable and naughty just like any other child.
The day that Grace McClelland in Indiana sent her picture book manuscript to Wild Onion Press was only a few months after the publishing company opened its doors. Her surgeon recommended Wild Onion Press to her, and the Fed Ex truck drove up to deliver her “life story,” which she had dictated to her mother when she was five. By the time Shelley Fraser Mickle, the publisher, turned the last page, she said, “” was not the same person.” Yes, that’s the ultimate measure of a successful piece of writing: it invites you into a unique world and leaves you changed.
Grace was born without fingers on her right hand. Her surgeon made her fingers out of her toes (which by the way, she still likes to polish), but when she was on the preschool playground, a boy said, “You must be stupid because you have stupid little fingers.” When her mother picked her up, she got in the car and said, “I’ve got to set him straight.” So before Grace could even write, she dictated in perfect free verse her response to her classmates’ curiosity and reluctance to see her as “one of them.”
Her picture book, The Gift of Grace, won a Nautilus Award in 2010 as a book that promotes social change. Now Grace is becoming a national celebrity. She was recently interviewed on Indiana ABC news, and the tape is going viral, as we say in this information-speedway-world.
What better way to change perceptions of physical differences than in a story through the eyes, ears, and words of unique children with extraordinary gifts, such as little Grace?
The following is an email written in response to the Grace’s news story:
I read your story on CNN, and was deeply touched. I was born with same disability as you– I also have no fingers on my right hand! I even have a twin, too! I was teased growing up as well, but never had the kind of courage and strength that you do. To write a book, to face up to the bullies, to share so much–I am in awe of you! I am now 34 and the mother of 4-year-old twins. I have purchased your book, and will share it with them in the hopes that they can learn from your story.
You are an amazing little girl. And don’t worry–your hand will not stop you from accomplishing anything you want. I have the most wonderful life, and I promise you that things only get better!!
All my best to you. And to your parents, you should be exceptionally proud of your little girl and the job you are doing raising her.
Stay tuned as in the next few weeks, Wild Onion Press announces the winner of the Grace McClelland Prize for another story that will change the world. Keep in the loop with Wild Onion Press on Facebook and online.