Karen Franco is a children’s book author and Jacob’s Mom. Writing has always been her passion. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism. She always felt she could communicate better in writing. It was also therapeutic for her especially after her son, Jacob, came into her life.
“His special needs brought such a different dimension to my life and I had to learn to cope with all the challenges…writing does that for me.”
She thought that telling simple stories about Jacob as a children’s book series would be a wonderful way to share not only his challenges, but also his achievements.
Tell us about your books.
Just Hold My Hand is a wonderful story that reflects how Jacob, a child with special needs, learns to manage the sensory triggers that affect emotional behaviors unique to him and children like him. A day at the county fair for Jacob is very different from other children. I include the four little words that can help to calm a child…no matter who they are.
Jacob’s Hoop is a story of how Jacob struggles with his physical limitations while playing basketball on his favorite hoop and with the help of other kids, Jacob succeeds in making a basket.
What Makes Bella Special? is about our Labradoodle, Bella and her special relationship with Jacob. Bella is truly a gift in many ways and in my story she is there taking care of Jacob, making Jacob laugh and comforting Jacob when he needs that time to cope. That’s what makes Bella special.
Who are your illustrators and why were they perfect for capturing the spirit of your books?
I’ve had three different illustrators for each of my books:
- Just Hold My Hand was illustrated by Gabbie Jensen. Gabbie was only 11 years old when she did my drawings. Gabbie has a little brother with Downs Syndrome, so she was able to capture all of Jacob’s emotions so well in her artwork. You can see her compassion and understanding in all her work.
- Jacob’s Hoop was illustrated by Jia Jia, a college student from China, who loves to draw and a teacher friend of mine.
- What Makes Bella Special? was illustrated by Maria Salerno. She is a dear friend of our family and is currently attending Carthage College in Kenosha, WI. Maria has an older brother with Cerebral Palsy so Maria knows firsthand the challenges of special needs.
Working with these young ladies was a joy. I had a great connection with all my illustrators. I gave them my words and they were able to create the perfect drawings to compliment them.
Who are your ideal readers?
My books are for children from the age of 5 to possibly 10 years of age. They are read in classrooms and one-on-one by families. I’ve been told that my books help to start the conversations with their children about the special kids in their classrooms. Some teachers have created lesson plans using my books.
What’s the message you want your readers to take away after reading your books?
Each book is a simple story with a big meaning. My stories and their messages teach other children about patience, understanding but most of all acceptance of kids who are “differently-abled.” I think my books help them gain more compassion as well as lessen their fears of kids with special needs. Our kids want to be like everyone else and have friends who care about them.
Do you have a proud moment to share?
A proud moment that I would like to share is when my son, Jacob, was able to graduate with his senior class from high school. Jacob’s teacher and I, along with his many student supporters, wanted him to succeed so we had plans in place in case Jacob couldn’t cope with the overwhelming event.
The gymnasium was packed with families and friends and lots of cheering…Jacob walked in with his class proudly wearing his red cap and gown. His buddy, Sam, was right next to him. Sam told me he would take care of Jacob.. Well, needless to say, Jacob’s name was called and he walked across that stage, shook the principal’s hand, walked back to his seat and proceeded to yell, “I did it!” That’s all I needed to see and hear and I was in tears…so incredibly proud of my son who for a moment was just like everyone else.
He knew he did something amazing as well, which was just the icing on the cake. Living with special needs every day, you learn to cherish times like these and celebrate every achievement, big or small while always letting your child know he did his very best and that you are very proud.
This is why I am writing my books about Jacob focusing on the positive while explaining differences.
Any other great moments?
Another moment I would like share is from another mother, Marge, who has a son with autism. His name happens to be Jacob too. She bought my first book, Just Hold My Hand. After she read the story, she took her son someplace in the community and he started to get agitated and nervous. She decided to use my four little words “just hold my hand” and sure enough he did!
She could feel his body begin to relax and he was able to make it the rest of the day. Marge was so thrilled she sent me an email to tell me what had happened. When parents take the time to write and say thank you I’m inspired to continue writing…book number four coming soon.
What would you like to tell other parents?
Living with special needs has truly opened my heart and mind to other ways of learning, communicating and loving. I think people tend to feel sorry for me but it shouldn’t be that way. Yes, there are days that I don’t think I can do this anymore, but then Jacob hugs me and says he loves me and I think, “What’s wrong with that?”
There is a reason that I was given Jacob, and I’m going to do my very best to give him all the support and love that he needs to succeed in life best to his ability.
Discover more about Karen’s books: