Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Jewel - Remembering Jewel Kats

Do you know Jewel Kats?  She was a pioneer in the world of children's publishing, who wrote stories to help empower children with disabilities, chronic conditions, and address important life lessons for children everywhere.  She was the inspiration behind the Archie Comics character, Harper Lodge, the first character in the comic with a disability.

I had never heard of Jewel Kats until my dad clipped an article about the Canadian author last month following her passing, and subsequently put five of her books on order for me to read from the library. As I began to read about Jewel, her life's work, and explore her stories alongside the minions, one thing was clear: she was freaking amazing!  Being able to explore relatable, believable, and inspiring messaging all within the short confines of a children's story is truly a remarkable talent.

Author photo of Jewel Kats courtesy of Anokhi Media

Jewel used her hot pink punk rock accessories, a crutch and walker to walk, and a manual wheelchair for longer distances to get around, and wrote books to inspire children to be whatever they wanted to be.  After a car accident when she was nine years old, Kats had chronic pain, arthritis, and low bone density in her right leg.

Her first book Reena's Bollywood Dream is a story tackling sexual abuse that aptly tells a story in terms that children can understand, leaving the vital takeaways about understanding what is inappropriate, saying no, speaking up to trusted adults, and that sexual abuse is never their fault.

Her other eight books are a part of her "Fairy Ability Tales" series that show that anyone can be a princess if they want to be.  My personal favourite was Cinderella's Magical Wheelchair because it featured a more confident, independent Cinderella who launches her own business, which she continues, even after she marries her Prince Charming.  A close second would be The Princess and the Ruby, An Autism Fairy Tale with her take on the classic The Princess and the Pea, with her own signature, heartwarming twist.   


Photo Courtesy of Archie Comics.

A number of years ago Kats approached Archie Comics writer Daniel Parent at a Toronto Fan Expo directly asking him why Riverdale didn't have a disabled character.  Parent gave Kats his contact information and they connected. In 2014, the character Harper Lodge, who seems to have some definite similarities to Jewel Kats in terms of looks and style, was created.

Jewel's dream was an induction into The Canadian Disability Hall of Fame.  You can make a donation in honour of her memory to SickKids here or nominate her for the Hall of Fame after you check out her work here.