As the building nurse at Wilson Vance Intermediate School, Nancy Rook spends a lot of time with Gunner Hartley, a fourth grader with spina bifida. The two can often be seen roaming the halls together as Rook helps Hartley manage his condition at school. Hartley uses a wheelchair, and the other children often have questions about his condition, so Rook decided to write a children’s book to show them that his disability doesn’t make him different.
“This is my second year with him,” Rook said. “I see him every day and we just have conversations. He shares a little bit about himself. And I just thought in that time I’ve gotten to know quite a bit about him.”
She based the book in part off her experiences with Hartley. Rook explained that she first got the idea to write it when looking for a children’s book on spina bifida to show to Hartley’s classmates.
She didn’t like the options available and realized the book should be more about Hartley than his condition.
“So, it just kind of came to me, and I wanted it more focused on his similarities to other kids rather than what his differences are,” said Rook. It was her first time writing a book, but she quickly fell in love with the process. “The book doesn’t even talk about spina bifida,” she added.
The book, titled “Just Like You!”, follows the story of Hartley and how he uses a wheelchair. But it goes on to show that he is just like the other kids by having friends and a favorite color.
Rook wrote the book and her friend Sharon Dawson did the illustrations.
“She did a beautiful job. It took a while to get it laid out and all that,” Rook explained.
She said the best part is that the book can be used to reference just about any disability. “At the end of the book I wrote, ‘I don’t mind if you ask me nicely about some of the things that make me special, but I would rather we think about all the ways I am just like you,'” Rook read.
She held off on telling Hartley that she had written a book so she could surprise him with the real thing. “He kind of found out about it, just by mistake. So, I kind of didn’t talk about it for a while. Every once in a while, he’d say, ‘Are you going to write that book?’ And I’d say, ‘Yep, I’m working on it,'” she recalled.
When it was finished, Rook read it to the class in front of Hartley and his peers. “The teacher was really cute. She introduced it in the beginning and said, ‘We have a new book that we’re going to read to you, and we even brought in the author to read the book,'” said Rook.
She said all the kids were surprised to find out their school nurse had written a book!
“They’re like, ‘That’s our nurse. Our nurse is an author?’ And I still didn’t tell them who it was about,” said Rook. “I just said, this is a special book because it’s about somebody that you all know, somebody in this room.”
Some of Hartley’s family also attended the event, including his mom and grandmother.
“[His] mom was really excited because she said, ‘I thought you were going to write a medical book.’ So this is really neat,” said Rook.
She then gave Hartley a signed copy of the book for him to share.
“He was happy and I think he liked reading the little bits that I used from what he’s told me over the year and a half,” she said. “It’s definitely a children’s book and meant to be, but it’s meant to be for classmates so they can again draw awareness. It gives them a different perspective.”
It is now in the school library and on sale for $21 a copy.
“I’ve learned going to different schools, you learn that kids are kids pretty much everywhere,” she said. “I’m not a writer, but it worked out for this. I think when your topic is special and means something to you, it makes it easier.”