Topeka publishing company develops kids’ series on disabilities

Though the business side of publishing has required some trial and error, Finding My Way Books has stuck to its message, developing four series on kids with disabilities with an emphasis on inclusivity.

The company has published more than 20 books, and two more are set for release this month. Each story focuses on a child with a disability, and all of the stories are true, said CEO Jo Mach. Many of the books feature kids from Topeka, such as one that tells the story of a local third-grader’s involvement with a youth drum line. Another story takes place at the Topeka Zoo.

Mach, Vera Lynne Stroup-Rentier and Mary Birdsell were working together at an infant-toddler program at TARC in mid-2011 when they decided to pursue writing and publishing books aimed toward kids with disabilities. The trio wanted to develop books that could be easily understood and used photos rather than illustrations.

They created a couple of books over the next couple of years, and in January 2014, they set up a partnership and began self-publishing.

Mach said classes through Washburn University’s small business development program were helpful in learning about marketing. Author events at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library also were educational as the company got started.

“We just jumped in and kept doing the books,” Mach said.

The company has four series, with some including curriculum and activities. All of them feature their trademark style — photographs, large print, lots of color and a positive message.

Mach and Stroup-Rentier conduct interviews with each child and their family and develop a story. Birdsell then takes photos based off the text.

The books initially were aimed toward families. However, their audience has shifted to include teachers and libraries.

“Through trial and error, we got better at making the books,” Mach said. “We’re trying to create something that’s accepted in schools so this message is brought to teachers, families and kids.”

The books give children a voice and show that kids with disabilities should be viewed as peers, Mach said. They can participate in sports and activities even if they have to do it differently, she said.

Birdsell said she focuses on each child’s abilities when she captures images for the books. The books demonstrate that kids with disabilities aren’t defined by them. In some, the disability is visible, such as a girl who uses a wheelchair. In others, Birdsell said, the disability isn’t visible, which is important in understanding different disabilities.

The stories come to the publishing company in different ways — sometimes the women approach someone they have heard about, and at other times they are approached by someone interested in sharing their story.

“It is really fun to see what happens,” Mach said. “It’s been interesting to see how they come from different places.”

Birdsell said the work has…

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