School media specialist Alexis Cannon Hale (2010 MLIS) was disappointed when she found out about the underrepresentation of limb loss in children’s literature. Her discovery inspired her to write “It’s Me, Zoey!” starring her daughter as the main character.
Published in 2020, the brightly illustrated picture book celebrates the differences that make people unique. Hale shares more about the book — and its namesake.
Can you start by telling me about you and Zoey?
Zoey just turned 8, but she was born very early; she was what’s called a micro preemie. She was 12 weeks early and she weighed a pound and 13 ounces at birth. Her first outfit wan an American Girl Miniature doll outfit — that’s how small she was. She was in the hospital for three months after she was born. Zoey had amniotic band syndrome. Basically, a ligament that got removed from the womb and wrapped its way around her fingers on her left hand and her wrist on her right hand. And as she grew, it didn't, but she came out as a fighter. She’s defied all odds from the very beginning. Zoey is on the spectrum as a sensory seeker, which is something that most people don't know about. I didn't know about it until she was diagnosed with it, but sensory seekers are adrenaline junkies in their youngest form. She doesn't process pain the same way other people do.
What was it like when Zoey first started school?
She started school when she was 2 years old and she’s grown up in the same school. We were one of the few military families that didn't move because of her medical conditions. The kids were scared like they thought it was missing, they thought she was hurting. They thought that she couldn’t do anything. They were uneasy. They weren't scared of her as much as they were scared of what was happening to her.
When she gets a reaction like that, how does she respond?
She doesn't know any different and she doesn’t let it bother her. It is very normal for her and for people to ask questions. We've always been very open. Don't stand there and be scared or think we're a sideshow at the circus. Ask us questions and realize that she is one of the most amazing people you'll ever meet. Because she is — she climbs the rock walls, she opens the milk containers at school, she writes with a pen and pencil. She does all the things that you would normally think of.
What motivated you to write the book?
Zoey had an amazing kindergarten teacher, and when it became an issue where the kids were nervous and didn't know how to act appropriately, her teacher said, “I can't find any books.” The ones I looked at weren’t what we were looking for.
I did find Different Is Awesome, which is an amazing book. That was my favorite. But at that point I was like, “You know what, there are no characters like my baby.” There are no amputee characters in movies, books or shows. She didn't have characters that looked like her, and that wasn't OK.
What are your hopes for the book’s influence on children?
Normalization of limb differences is one of the big things for me. Even if it's a cartoon picture book, they need representation. And they need other kids to see it too, so that it's not like “Where's your hand? What is the matter with her?”
Did anyone from the CIC influence you to tell Zoey’s story?
In the School of Library and Information Science, there was Pat Feehan, and she was the children's literature teacher. She was so animated and enthusiastic. You could tell she loved stories, and she loved all of them. She was one of those that really gave me the enthusiasm to do it. She had so much joy for children's books. She was what I wanted to be — what I wanted to show.
And my parents are both UofSC alumni. My dad was like, “You need to write it, you need to. It needs to be told. You will never back down from saying something, but there's a mom out there who doesn't know how to say anything. You need to talk for them.”
Is there anything I haven't asked that you’d like to talk about?
My friend came over during COVID actually and illustrated it, and every picture in the book is an actual picture of Zoey's activities. To the point of spinning, twirling and playing soccer. Then on the back, every one of these people is in her life including the other two amputee characters. Kim Stumbo, the author of The Adventures of The One Arm Wondermom, is featured in the book. Zoey likes to call them the ampu-twins. The font is my handwriting. It only mentions her hand once, then everything else is just pure empowerment for children.
It seems like it’s very personalized.
It really is, but it's universal. I actually got Zoey’s input — she helped me with it. This was her story. Everything I make from the books goes directly toward making more books for children with limb differences, because I will be making a series called The Adventures of Boom and Zoom, which will be about things she can do that people don’t expect her to be able to do. I did it so that my child and children like her have a character who looks like them. I want to make it a normal thing, something that’s not shocking. It’s my job as her mom, and I’ll continue to do it.