In Conversation with Christy Jackson, Author of 'Just Like You'
This weekend marks the official release of Just Like You, a story for children and families by debut author, Christy Jackson. The book is inspired by June Jackson, Christy’s daughter, and follows her family’s adventurous way of life around the Pacific Northwest.
June was born with Polymicrogyria (PMG), a rare neurological disease that comes with several diagnoses, including Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, and Microcephaly. “Despite having all of these diagnoses,” Christy says, “what you’ll notice first about June is her spunk and love for playing with her siblings and friends.” The book fully captures June's spirit (and her loving family) through a series of episodic vignettes that are brought to life by artist and illustrator, Katie Grosskopf.
Christy Jackson wears many hats. She is a mom, a wife, an advocate for the disability community, a manager, a creative, a board member at Harper’s Playground and Smile Oregon. This book represents her talents and passions coming together in a single project that is right at the center of her own heart.
She will be at the Harper’s Playground annual Summerish Soiree on Saturday, September 25th, where readers can purchase signed copies. This event seems like an apt location to be presenting Just Like You to the world. “I attended my first Summerish Soiree in 2018 on behalf of my employer. And at the event, I remember thinking: this is exactly what I need to be a part of - this is so important.”
Since attending the event for the first time, Christy has joined the board at Harper’s Playground. At the same time, her family has been on a monumental journey, getting to a place where she is ready to share this story with the world.
We recently sat down to talk a bit more about the backstory to Just Like You, and how her family’s growth has played an important role in shaping the story of this book.
Can you tell us a bit about the origins for Just Like You?
At two months old, June experienced her first seizure. Instantly, my family was thrown into an unknown world of hospitals, care, and equipment. With providers circling her bedside, jumbling large, foreign words, I just hoped that, somehow, I would understand it all.
The many long spells we’ve spent at the hospital with June have given me time to think about her and other children just like her. This prompted me to write and explore ways of sharing June’s story to help other children and families relate and understand this simple truth: there are children like her all over the world that deserve love and friendship, just like you.
Over time, it has become clear to me that others are probably thinking similar things, wanting similar comfort. So, I started to write down my thoughts and visions for how I wanted to share June’s journey. This is how Just Like You was born.
How did the writing process and timing come together in the creation of Just Like You
The writing process wasn’t the hard part; it was deciding what I wanted to publish. For me, in taking on this book, having gone through so many experiences with June, I was constantly asking myself: what are people going to resonate with?
June is five and I had the idea for this book when she was two. I was originally coming from a place of deep grief. We were getting so much information from providers and processing it all; this was really difficult. Not knowing if our child was going to live was a heavy reality that we needed to grapple with and face.
I didn’t want to write about a lot of hospital experiences because those can be traumatic. At the same time, I thought people might need to hear about that more than anything else. I went through this circular process over and over.
With time, there was a shift in me and my vision for this book started to crystalize. To be able to come from that experience into a place where I could reflect on so many joyful things about our daily life wasn’t an easy journey, but I’m really grateful to see the progress.
Really, the biggest inspiration is June. She has gone through more than I could ever imagine. Whenever I have something to complain about, I think about all that she’s gone through, and it really puts things in perspective.
What has been helpful in getting into a mind frame where you’re ready to release the book to the world?
I have two older, typical children, Addison and Lane. I’ve always read to them and in all our years, have never encountered a book that discussed equity and inclusion around disabled children. I initially found this to be a huge disappointment, but also an opportunity - to be able to share with the world our experience with June. I set out to do this in a way that you could identify with her and other children with disabilities, so that it’s normalized and celebrated.
Disabled children and adults are still marginalized in a world where we preach equity and inclusion, and this baffles me!
What do you hope that readers take away from Just Like You?
My biggest wish as a parent is that when I send June to school, she will be accepted, loved, and that kids will want to play with her.
I’m a huge believer and advocate for giving children with disabilities space in general education classrooms. Kids with disabilities have historically been separated in different classrooms under the banner of “Special Ed”. Even when I was growing up, typical kids only knew that children with disabilities needed extra help and that was why we didn’t interact with them.
My hope, in getting this book into the hands of children and into classrooms and schools, is that they’ll see people with disabilities as a part of their world. It’s perfectly acceptable to say hello to someone with a disability, to mingle, and to have a conversation, even if they don’t communicate back in a typical way.
It’s important to note that when we talk about equity and inclusion, we can point out all of the wrongs, the misses, but I do think it’s important to note that we’ve come a long way. There are opportunities for all groups to participate and be included in play. I really want to contribute to that progress, because I see this change at a systems level, through my advocacy work, but also on a micro level, at home.
My older kids are also so in-tune with her and the best siblings any kid could ask for. They are well aware of what to look for when it comes to accessibility.
There’s a knowledge gap with people who have no experience with the disability community, even in a city like Portland. I am really appreciative that my kids, through their experience, are now going to be generationally making an impact. They’re like a pebble in a pond, making ripples. I’m so happy to start that on behalf of June. And now spread that out and hopefully those who are affiliated with me, my family, and friends will all make the same impact.
What impact has writing and creating this book made on you?
When I first had June, I was very confused. My husband and I were asking “Why us? What did we do wrong? ’How are we going to survive this?” It was very self-centered. As we joined support groups and started to realize that we weren’t alone, it opened our perspective. It was a mind and perspective change. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves and for what June inevitably won’t experience, we changed the narrative format and really thought about what June was experiencing at the moment.
June loves to ride her trike. June loves being outside. June loves riding in the car. June loves being around people. June loves being at the beach. These are the things that I’ve highlighted in the book because that’s our way of life.
Personally, I have been humbled. In this book writing process, I have realized that I am not alone. There are a lot of people who want to hear about June, about us. I am so grateful to the community.
There are so many beautiful personal touches in the book. Would you mind telling us a bit more about the dedications and their significance?
The first is to my Grandma Phyllis.
She and my Grandpa Del had a baby grand piano in their home. And all of us grandkids loved to have sleepovers and make beds under the piano.
My grandma was an editor for our church, and she edited all of the material that was sent out. Because we knew that she was the grammar queen, we’d take all of our papers and assignments to her. And she’d always send it back covered in red pen. She’d also always correct our grammar – which I’ve grown to appreciate and even replicate.
I used to take my grandma’s yellow legal pad and write novels. I’d get a few chapters in and staple it together to make her a book, and she would edit those. With all of these experiences, I just knew that I was supposed to write this book.
My grandma passed away in May 2006 of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She is always a part of my life and I have made her a part of my children's life even though she didn’t get to meet them. So, the dedication in the book is really important to me and my family. She was the family matriarch and the best. The saying in the book is something that she would always do with us – pose the question, "Guess what?" The answer would always be “I love you”.
The second dedication is to Suzy, June’s physical therapist.
It’s interesting how we came to meet her. Suzanne actually went to high school with my dad. Many years later, my dad and Suzanne were at a Halloween party, and he was bragging about me and June. He was trying to educate those around him about her diagnosis when Suzanne happened to be nearby. She asked, ‘Does she have Microcephaly?’ She said he should bring June to her - which we did, and this changed everything.
Suzy has years and years of experience and is just the best person, best advocate, so kind, always willing to help others—and she has a lot of love for June. Without her direction on what true physical therapy and play looks like, I don’t know if we’d be where we are today.
Visit christyjacksonauthor.com to order and follow @christyajackson on Instagram for regular updates.
The beautiful illustrations for Just Like You were done by Katie Grosskopf.
All photos by Riff_Creative.
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