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Northport mom shines light on different abilities with uplifting new children’s book

People by: Joanne Kountourakis, November 30, 2022

Local mom and author Valerie Goldstein. Photo courtesy Valerie Goldstein.

I first met Valerie Goldstein at Northport Nursery School; for years our children shared classrooms and teachers on the school’s little campus. Because of this, I ran into Valerie often and was always moved by her sweet demeanor, her ever-present smile, her ability to mindfully engage in just a few short minutes (time is precious when your kids are in half-day preschool).

Valerie was rarely without her forearm crutches, but her disability never defined her. She was a fellow mom, a kind soul lugging her kids to nursery school three to five days a week. She was a piece of calm in a chaotic morning.

I spoke with Valerie earlier this month about her trajectory from a disabled mom of three motivated by the sweet questions and curiosities of the nursery school children, to a disability advocate and children’s book author steadily educating readers about people with different abilities. Her book, Violet’s Victory, officially launched on November 1.

“Somewhat autobiographical”
When Valerie was 17 years old, she was a passenger in a motor vehicle accident; her neck broke in three places but her spinal cord was spared. Once the captain of her cross country and track team, Valerie found herself an incomplete quadriplegic.

Physical therapy helped Valerie walk again, with the help of forearm crutches. After attending Stony Brook University for her undergraduate and master’s degree, she found solace in writing, her primary audience in the beginning being adults. Valerie has written various works on different abilities and, after having children of her own, began writing about parenting.

Something kept calling her back to sports though, anything to get her heart rate up and her energy out, she said. “When I discovered the handcycle, I realized that my disability didn’t [have to] stop me from competing,” she said. “Putting myself back in the world of competitive sports just felt exhilarating.”

In Violet’s Victory, the main character – a lavender-haired girl who uses forearm crutches – contemplates her ability to participate in her school’s upcoming “sports day.” Violet dreams of keeping up with her friends in a track and field race. She then discovers a purple handcycle. Like Valerie in real life, Violet trains diligently to acclimate to this new and exciting activity.

Through her positive, uplifting and “somewhat autobiographical” story, Valerie hopes to showcase children with disabilities, along with their adaptive equipment – something she feels is lacking in other picture books. “I hope that children with different abilities can relate to Violet and be inspired and empowered to know that they can do anything they put their mind to,” Valerie said. The book exemplifies perseverance, and demonstrates the kindness involved in accommodating those with different needs.

The relatability of being different
A published writer already, Valerie said having kids gave her “an excuse” to pursue a different genre: children's books. Having kids also put Valerie in the perfect setting to be inspired. While at Northport Nursery School, Valerie often found herself surrounded by curious children. “All the little kids were coming up to me,” she said. “I feel like that was the first experience with a lot of kids seeing me at once. And they would ask me tons of questions like ‘Why do you use crutches? What happened? What do they do for you?’”

Valerie took the questions as an opportunity to host presentations on disabilities and different abilities at her kids’ schools. The students she spoke with were so sweet, Valerie said, and embraced the open dialogue from the beginning.

“They had their own stories to tell,” she said. “They might have kept it inside because no one brought up the conversations, so they were eager to talk about their own experiences and have a conversation that maybe they never had before.”

The children spoke about a sibling with a brace, or a grandparent with a walker or wheelchair. Some found ways to relate to a friend with a hearing aid, or other disabilities.

The conversations allowed for Valerie to share messages of relatability, for both students with and without disabilities, and forge an understanding that while they may be a little different on the outside, there were so many more things they had in common.

It had to be written…
While presenting to the school children, Valerie would bring wheelchairs and crutches she made for dolls to use as examples of adaptive equipment. She also read one of the few children’s books she could find that incorporated a child with a disability but in some ways, she said, the book was negative, focusing on things the disabled character couldn’t do. Valerie would often have to skip over pages when reading the book to her young audiences.

“It wasn’t putting disabilities in a positive light,” she said.

Cue Valerie’s aha moment.

It would take a few years and a pandemic to turn Valerie’s idea – to publish a children’s book about disabilities, with a female main character participating in a sporting event – into reality. She fleshed out ideas she had written down pre-Covid into a project she dedicated herself to when school shut down, while homeschooling her three kids, Gus, Luca and Aurora.

It took Valerie six months to complete the book before sending it out to publishers.

She has since gone on tour with Violet’s Victory, attending numerous book readings, and festivals, including in Chappaqua, one of the largest children’s book festivals in the United States. “It was a dream come true,” Valerie said of the family trip upstate.

After a pre-launch blitz of promotions and pre-sales, Valerie said things are somewhat slowing down, at least in terms of the book. She is also participating in a fellowship at Stony Brook University and is considering a future book project, focusing on disabilities, for older children.

Valerie is grateful to be on what she calls her dream path. “I’ve always wanted to do this,” she said. “I’m hoping that what I’ve written, whether adults read it or kids read it, that it makes an impact on their lives.”

You can purchase Valerie’s book on her website or at Barnes and Noble. She’ll be at Kidz Course in East Northport from 10-11am on Saturday, December 3 (International Day of Persons with Disabilities) to read her book and give a presentation; register here. You can also follow Valerie on Facebook.