Wendy on Wheels - bringing disability into the mainstream

I recently sat down for a Skype video call to the USA to speak with Angela Ruzicka, self-published writer of the popular children’s book series Wendy on Wheels.

 

“Wendy is a strong character who likes to have fun” says Angela, creator of the vibrant and engaging Wendy.

 

A wheelchair user, Wendy on Wheels goes through life doing what any pre-teen would. She just happens to do it using a wheelchair.

 

Inspired by her own sister Mandy who has used a wheelchair all her life, Angela decided to write her first book in response to the lack of characters in children’s literature who have a disability. “You see a few more than you used to here and there but there’s still a long way to go” she says, “characters who have a disability are still all too rare.”

 

“Wendy is a character who is accessible to all children, she’s not some token character who has a disability” she goes on. “The wheelchair is incidental and does not define her. You notice it but it’s not really the focus of the story.”

 

What’s interesting about Wendy on Wheels is perhaps not the fact that she is a main character who has a disability, it’s that it’s kind of irrelevant… in a good way.

 

“The central theme of Wendy on Wheels revolves around empathy and showing kindness to others.” This is perhaps best exemplified by the fourth book in the series, Wendy on Wheels takes a stand, in which the titular Wendy takes action after seeing a class mate get bullied at school. Each book includes a section at the end to encourage discussion among children, particularly in the classroom.

 

Angela frequently does readings in schools where the discussions can go in any direction. “In one school I visited, one boy told me he forgot that Wendy was in a wheelchair. Sometimes the discussions take on a life of their own and go in a direction I did not anticipate. During one discussion at an elite private school, the pupils barely mentioned Wendy’s disability. The discussion revolved around bullying and how to tackle it.”

 

As the inspiration for Wendy, Mandy often accompanies Angela on these school visits where, Angela says, the reaction among the smaller children is often one of innocent curiosity, as they are all fascinated with Mandy’s wheelchair and want to touch it.

 

Mandy continues to inspire the series in more ways than simply the character of Wendy. The first book in the series, Wendy goes to the beach, was a simple story inspired by Angela’s family outings with her sister. The 5th book released recently was based on true events that concerned Mandy and her frustrated attempts to join a choir, and ultimately singing at the White House.

 

“A lot of the jokes and the wording were taken from my sister. Wendy says things like ‘I had to put my wheel down’, which is something Mandy actually said.”

 

Asked what the future holds in store for Wendy, Angela jokes “people want to see Wendy dating”, adding - “I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet”.

 

Wendy on Wheels Moves on was released earlier this year and is available to buy on Amazon as are the other installments in the series.

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