Santan Sun News Agent
Chandler resident Rachel Leland’s own health challenges inspired her to bring joy to sick children in a variety of ways.
While battling her own health problems in 2016, Leland, now 29, designed “Select Stuffies,” a range of crocheted soft toys with disabilities and differences that she sold on Etsy.
“Some were in wheelchairs, attached to IV poles, or used rollators,” she explained. “Others had physical differences such as scars, large moles on their faces or missing limbs.
“One of my biggest salespeople was Ava Ann, a cute little rabbit in a purple dress who wore an insulin pump used to treat type 1 diabetes.”
Over a period of two years, she sold these bespoke creations around the world, but as her health improved, she had less time to crochet her stuffed animals.
“So last year I decided to redesign Ava Ann as the heroine of a children’s book instead,” Leland explained.
And so she wrote “Ava Ann Makes Art: The Story of a Rabbit with Diabetes”.
“I chose to write the story of Ava Ann because I have a relationship with her. Although I do not have type 1 diabetes, I developed serious Lyme disease by the age of 13 and spent most of my teenage years bedridden and in a wheelchair.
“I know it’s hard to distinguish yourself from your friends. I wanted to explore this idea in a children’s book. “
The book follows its young protagonist, who learns to find her way around the medical world into which she was suddenly thrown. When a school assignment requires her to make a work of art about herself, Ava Ann digs deep to create a unique project that connects aspects of her previous life with parts of her new life with diabetes.
Serendipity has now made it possible for her to produce her book in Spanish.
It was translated by the daughter of a coworker in the San Tan Valley School District, where Leland is a speech pathology assistant.
Her colleague Norma Lu is a special education teacher and offered her 16-year-old daughter Amy Lu to have the book translated.
“I was so happy that Amy wanted to work with me to translate this book into Spanish,” said Leland. “It’s really exciting that it’s now available in two languages, and I owe it to Amy.”
Amy is a junior at Basha High School, her father Minh Lu is a programming engineer.
The book was illustrated by Arunodoy Ghosh Biswas.
Leland said, “Writing the story was easy. I based Ava Ann’s project on a real-life piece of art I made with local mixed media artist Shanna Israel from Scottsdale.
“With her guidance, we used items from my past, such as pill capsules filled with glitter, to create a truly unique piece that shows everything that made me what I am today.”
She said it was cathartic to write it.
She was excited to “see how my life, and especially my years struggling with health challenges, have become a beautiful work of art.”
“I knew I wanted this for Ava Ann. I also enjoyed sprinkling parts of my own story into the book. For example, I used my brother’s name, Jeremy, for one of her classmates and found a way to include two of my best friends, Christine and Jenny, in the book. “
Writing the book “was the quick part,” she said.
“Working with my illustrator to bring my ideas to life took about five months,” recalls Leland. “I started by sending my illustrator a picture of the original Ava Ann soft toy so he could make the drawings look like she does in real life.
“Then I sent him descriptions of each scene, down to the minute details, like when I wanted the characters to smile or be upset, and what I wanted as decorations on the walls. There was a lot of back and forth with each picture, but we made it and I’m so grateful that we put the work into it. “
“When I decided to have my book translated into Spanish, I worked with the same illustrator to redesign each picture with English words.”
With her first book, Leland thinks about another one and “chooses another animal from my Select Stuffies line and brings her story to life in the form of a children’s book”.
So far, however, she is in the process of developing her idea.
Leland said the English version of her book had an encouraging response from several doctors treating children with type 1 diabetes.
She said they told her that “now they have my book in their waiting room, which makes me so happy”.
“I also have Type 1 bloggers writing positive reviews of the book and sharing it with the diabetes community,” Leland added.
Both “Ava Ana Hace Arte: Una Historia De Una Conejita Con Diabetes” and “Ava Ann Makes Art: The Story of a Rabbit with Diabetes” are available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com.