Interview with Mary Jean Kelso: Books for Children with Disabilities

Interview with Mary Jean Kelso: Books for Children with Disabilities

When I received a message from author Mary Jean Kelso about her books in the Andy and the Albino Horse Series I knew they would benefit the children with disabilities whose parents visit our site. Parents of children with special needs are always looking for ways to boost their child’s self-esteem and for ways to explain to siblings and classmates about their child. Sharing a book and discussing it is a perfect way for adults to open the door to discussions that foster acceptance and understanding of others with different abilities.

If you work or live with children with disabilities, read the guest post by Mary Jean Kelso about her children’s books, Andy and the Albino Horse Series, illustrated by K.C. Snider. One bio about Ms. Kelso said, “Mary Jean Kelso is a multi-genre’ author writing for a variety of magazines and newspapers as well as publishing Adult novels, Young Adult novels and Children’s books.”

This interview is with Mary Jean Kelso the author of this powerful children’s picture book series.  When I was getting her post ready for our site, I was amazed at the many books Mary Jean has written and I am looking forward to learning more about this prolific author, her books and the many awards she has already won.

Lorna: Welcome to our Author Interview Series!  I read in your bio that you attended Lane Community College and studied English, Journalism and Creative Writing. Does this mean you had planned on writing books from the very beginning?  Tell us a little about your work and about the first books you wrote.  Were the first books for adults and where can they be bought?
>> Mary Jean Kelso >> Thank you, Lorna.  I knew from early on I wanted to write. In high school I had a Speech class that was my first formal introduction to preparing presentations. There I met a substitute teacher who wrote the “Really Truly Books.”  That ignited the first spark in my brain that there was a direction to go with my writing.
At that time, there was no such thing as a “Creative Writing” class. Most of my training was toward a secretarial career. Typing, Spelling and business classes at Merritt Davis Business College were very useful toward my writing career.

After my last child was born I talked to the staff at Lane Community College about offering a Creative Writing Class. I enrolled in the first Creative Writing class they offered and took others as well as looking for instruction opportunities where I could find them. I have a Completion Certificate from Writer’s Digest for their Creative Writing Correspondence course.

I had the opportunity to attend Lane Community College English and Journalism classes when I worked as an assistant editor for a magazine group in the early 1980’s.

My first professional efforts were writing short stories and articles. My first “sold” story was to a romance magazine group. Ironically, one of my Senior Editors at the company I worked for a few years later said she had worked for the group. She said she had probably been one of the staff to recommend purchasing my story.

 Goodbye Is Forever  Young Adult Mystery  by Mary Jean KelsoAfter a trip to Virginia City, Nevada, I became enthralled with the history of the old mining town and wrote a young adult novel. It has been reprinted three times and is now available as Goodbye Is Forever at, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and many other outlets (both in print and digital formats).

I continue to write Young Adult (YA).  About 12 years ago I wrote my first adult novel. It is, also, the first in my Homesteader series (The Homesteader). It was accepted by a publisher who told me I “had a best seller.”Annabel's Story by Mary Jean Kelso Unfortunately, she died in her sleep before it was in print and I had to start looking for another publisher.

Wings accepted it in 2004. It was listed as a Wings Best Seller for May 2005. Since then Wings has published The Homesteader’s Legacy, Back to the Homestead, Life on the Homestead and, the latest in the series, Annabel’s Story. They have also published No Time for Goodbye which is the sequel to Goodbye Is Forever.

Whiskey Creek Press published Blue Coat, an adult novel, and another young adult novel, Kat’s Cradle.

A Christmas Angel  by Mary Jean Kelso, Illustrated by K.C. Snider Lorna: Do I understand that your first children’s picture book was The Christmas Angel? Tell us about it and how you and the illustrator K.C. Snider formed a partnership that seems to be continuing for the Andy and the Albino Horse Series.

>> Mary Jean Kelso >>Yes. The Christmas Angel started out as a totally handmade book. I wrote the text, type-set it, printed it, cut it, folded the signatures, made the cover and stapled it all together.

My daughter, Wendy Whiteman, was doing craft shows at the time and I went along to help. I took what YAs I had at the time to sell as well. Children wanted the books and the parents apparently didn’t want to spend the money that that size book cost. Wendy suggested that I write something I could sell for a dollar.

So, I wrote The Christmas Angel. I knew there was something magic in the book when adults began buying 25 at a time to enclose in their Christmas cards.One Family's Christmas  by Mary Jean Kelso, Illustrated by K.C. Snider

That led to my writing a total of six mini-books that now are under contract with Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. as picture books. Besides The Christmas Angel, its sequel, One Family’s Christmas and RV Mouse have been released.

Birds in the Flower Basket  by Mary Jean KelsoThe Chick that Couldn’t Scratch, The Bow Tie Bunny and Christopher Makes Magic are in the queue at Guardian Angel Publishing along with new Andy and the Albino Horse series books. Cowboy James (about a little boy in pee wee rodeo) released in August 2011.  Birds in the Flower Basket, a recent project with illustrator Julie Hammond, released in November 2012.

K. C. and I teamed up after I felt I was making progress with my adult novels. I decided to see that The Christmas Angel got published in an illustrated normal-sized format. I sat down to start the sketches for the art work and, after barely drawing the first few lines, realized I didn’t have time to do both the illustrations and continue to write.

K.C. and I had gone to high school together and I knew she attended art school afterwards. At one point we lived neighbours to each other and I had seen her fine art. So I called her to see if she would be interested in working with me on the project. My mindset, at the time, was that we would self-publish.

We were both busy and in no rush with this book so K.C. didn’t set to work right away. Since we were on our own schedules, we didn’t worry too much about it. So, a year or so later, when she sent me the illustrations I set about putting the galley together.

When I was perusing one of the writing loops I saw information about Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. and decided to send the publisher an email.

GAP’s logo is a pair of wings with the quote that says, “I am a Guardian Angel”She responded with a request that I send her the material. Shortly afterward, we had a contract. The publisher, Lynda S. Burch, took all of the children’s manuscripts I already had written. I continue to submit and receive contracts from this publisher.  To this day I think it helped that she collects angels. Not only collectibles but now considers her authors and artists her own gathering of “angels”. GAP’s logo is a pair of wings with the quote that says, “I am a Guardian Angel

I guess it is all a matter of timing. As for me, I’ve always kept plugging along, determined not to give up. Persistence pays off! If I could give one piece of advice to fledgling writers “never give up!” would be the mantra.

Mary Jean Kelso’s Books for Children with Disabilities

Lorna: Your series about Andy will hopefully help children relate in a positive way to individuals and animals with handicaps.  Are they based on a personal experience? Is that the reason for these books or did it just evolved that way?

>> Mary Jean Kelso >> I wanted to write one horse book. The story line evolved as I developed the characters (and I do consider Spirit one of the characters). It occurred to me that a special needs child could gain a lot with the freedom they experience riding a horse.

Again, timing seemed to be in play. I met a friend that had horses for equine therapy. She worked with people with handicaps of all types–major, minor, physical and mental. She has spent many years as a teacher’s aide for Special Needs classes.

The other reason I was interested in taking this tact with the book is that I have known adults with handicaps that could function to some degree and contribute to society, but did not. They wasted their time being dependent on others and complaining.

I wanted to write something that would encourage kids to live a “normal” life even though they might be wheelchair dependent or have some other disability.  I hoped they would see themselves “differently-abled” (to quote another GAP author, J. Aday, Kennedy).

It is a theme that I have used as far back as my first young adult novel (Goodbye is Forever) in the Lynne Garrett series. Lynne is a girl that lost a leg in an auto accident. She had to adapt to one leg and learn to function in life just like anyone else. After all, we all learn as we go along whether or not we have disability challenges.

When K.C. got the manuscript for Andy and the Albino Horse to start the art work, she decided that the story shouldn’t end there. She pitched the idea of a series to our publisher and she agreed, sending me a blanket contract for the series. So, early next year the fifth book (Andy and Spirit in Search and Rescue) will release. There are two more in the print queue and I am working on still others.

Andy & Spirit in the Big Rescue by Mary Jean Kelso is about bullying - Interview with Mary Jean Kelso: Books for Children with Disabilities Lorna: Book three – Andy & Spirit in the Big Rescue is about bullying.  Unfortunately bullying of children with special needs is a well-known fact.  Parents and educators are constantly trying to find solutions for this serious problem that scars many for life.  Tell us about the story in this book and what message did you try to get across to the readers.

>> Mary Jean Kelso >> Actually, there is bullying in the first, second and third book. In Andy and the Albino Horse both of the main characters have been bullied. In Andy and Spirit Go to the Fair, the bully is in the stands taunting Andy while he and Spirit compete. Andy has to draw on his reserves to complete his task even though Billy aggravates him. Book three, Andy and Spirit in the Big Rescue, a rodeo bull jumps the fence and pins Billy against a wall. Andy and Spirit help rescue him.

I have witnessed so much bullying that it is hard to believe anybody escapes it. There is no magic elixir against it. My point was that, hopefully, by staying strong, the one being bullied can overcome some of the effects of bullying. I truly believe we are all scarred to some degree by bullying. Some people more than others.

Lorna: You wrote, “Each Andy book has teachers and/or homeschoolers aides in the back that are relevant to the main subject in the book.” Please elaborate.

Andy and Spirit in Search and Rescue by Mary Jane Kelso - Interview with Mary Jean Kelso: Books for Children with Disabilities >> Mary Jean Kelso >> The first book (Andy and the Albino Horse) has horse safety tips in the back and links to equine therapy information. The second, Andy and Spirit Go to the Fair, introduces wild horse management and 4-H horse clubs. The third, Andy and Spirit in the Big Rescue, has a piece on how hippotherapy—a term that came about because horses evolved from hippos. Number four, Andy and Spirit Meet the Rodeo Queen, has information about participating in rodeos and becoming a rodeo queen. Book five, Andy and Spirit in Search and Rescue, will have details about animal rescue groups and advocates humane treatment of animals.

Lorna: There are five books in the series now. Is that correct? Tell us what your plans are for this series. What other books do you have ready now? Will others follow?

>> Mary Jean Kelso >> K.C. and I both live in western states that have wild mustangs roaming free. These horses are monitored by different agencies. People go out and count the horses in order to know how to protect them and whether their feed and water can sustain the size of the herds.

As these agencies are involved in tallying the horses, etc., the sixth book will be Andy and Spirit Go on a Day Count.

Book number seven, Andy and Spirit Ride a Train, is a trip on an old steam train. During the outing Tracy (Spirit’s owner), Andy and Spirit come to the rescue of one of the train volunteers.

Since I write a number of other things including adult, young adult, feature articles, etc., those are the only two that are complete at this time. I maintain a file folder of ideas for future Andy books and am always looking for more adventures the two can be involved in.  We hope the series goes on as long as I do.

Tween book The Adventures of Andy and Spirit by Mary Jean Kelso - Interview with Mary Jean Kelso: Books for Children with Disabilities Lorna: There is also a Tween book available for older readers, The Adventures of Andy and Spirit.  How is this book different than those in the series?

>> Mary Jean Kelso >> There are no colored illustrations in The Adventures of Andy and Spirit. I felt that the stories would be of interest to older kids who grow into chapter books and leave the children’s books behind. The publisher removed most of the art work and left one black and white image for each story. So, all of the first four stories are in The Adventures of Andy and Spirit, Book 1. The plan is to produce The Adventures of Andy and Spirit, Book 2 when the next four stories are released.

Lorna: Thank you so much for introducing our readers to your books through your guest post. Also we greatly appreciate you took time for this interview.  Please give us your links on how to follow you and where to buy your books.

>> Mary Jean Kelso >> Thank you, Lorna, for giving me this opportunity to introduce myself and my books to your readers! I hope that they enjoy the books as much as I have writing them. I’d like to think they receive value beyond a good story and beautiful illustrations when they read them.

There are two Facebook pages: Mary Jean Kelso and Mary Jean Kelso, Author. Also, I hope the readers will enjoy the free on-line magazineAndy and Spirit Meet the Rodeo Queen by Mary Jean Kelso - Interview with Mary Jean Kelso: Books for Children with Disabilities  published by Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc., and the fun blog that K.C. and I have for the Andy series.

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This post was written by Lorna
Lorna d’Entremont: Co-owner of SentioLife Solutions, Ltd. the company behind KidCompanions Chewelry (2007) and SentioCHEWS (2013), mother of three, grandma of 5 and wife. She is a retired teacher and special needs advocate. Throughout she has taught all levels from grade 2 to grade 9. Lorna loved teaching and enjoyed seeing the students progress in the school system. During her 30 year career she took a few years off to raise her three children.
  • Susan Hornbach

    Thank you Lorna and Mary Jean. The Andy and Spirit books are a wonderful asset to all children. Thank you Mary Jean for sharing all of your writing experiences with us. Great interview Lorna.

  • Bill Kirk

    Terrific interview post, Lorna. Thanks for giving us such an in depth look at the back story behind Mary Jean’s books.

  • Wow! Great interview, insight and inspiration. Thank you Lorna and Mary Jean.

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