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"Wendy On Wheels"

Sister's inspiration prompts children's books on positive characters with disabilities

Mandy Ruzicka (left) and her sister, Angela Ruzicka. Angela is the author of a children’s book series entitled “Wendy on Wheels.” photo by Max Bouvatte (click for larger version)
June 20, 2012
Out of the more than four million babies born each year in this country, 1,500 to 2,000 are born with spina bifida. Mandy Ruzicka is one of them.

Mandy, a 27-year-old Oakville resident, will always be confined to a wheelchair. Her 31-year-old sister, Angela, is determined to help her and others with similar disabilities to enjoy all that life has to offer.

Angela, a Central West End resident, has written a series of books, "Wendy On Wheels," about a 10-year-old girl born with spina bifida and the problems she faces and how she overcomes them — one experience at a time.

"Mandy was saying that a lot of people she knows feel unmotivated and depressed," Angela said. "She said her friends were talking about how they couldn't get a job because they were in a wheelchair, and it bothered her. I thought, something has to be done about it, but I didn't know what to do."

Angela began researching books, looking to see if there were any out there depicting positive characters for children with disabilities.

“Wendy On Wheels Goes To The Beach” is one of four books in Angela Ruzicka’s series. (click for larger version)
"I went to Amazon and all they had were books for parents on how to teach their children not to make fun of kids or adults with disabilities," she said. "There was nothing positive for the kids with disabilities. I thought, 'If I can't find the characters I want, I have to make my own.'"

The first one, "Wendy on Wheels Goes to the Beach," came out in 2010 followed by "Wendy Goes to the Zoo."

"Then the third and fourth one came to me," she said.

The brightly-illustrated books are the work of Angela's graphic artist, Elizabeth Gearhart, who graduated with Ruzicka from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

"Once the story is there, I write it, then we sit down and hash out how I'm envisioning it," Angela said. "We communicate very well, even to the expressions on the kids' faces. It takes her a couple of weeks to make a pencil drawing of every page, which I approve or suggest more work on. Then it takes her three to four months to do the final illustrations."

Mandy said the response to her sister's books has been great.

"I don't know about the younger kids, but I know the kids my age (20-somethings) respond to them," she said. "I go to the National Spina Bifida conferences every year and my friends love the books."

With a sales and marketing background, Angela has been very savvy in getting her books known to the public. She knew that self-publishing was probably the only option, so she set out to educate herself on the process.

“Wendy On Wheels Goes To The Zoo" (click for larger version)
"If you want to find out anything, you have to go to the Internet, but it's a long search," Angela said. "I had to type in 'self publishing,' then I had to type in 'write a book.' You find a little bit of information from one person, then you find a little bit from someone else."

Angela has publicized her books through Facebook, first setting up a "profile page" for Mandy. After receiving 5,000 friends, her computer froze up. A fan page was then started.

"There are all of these groups like Parents of Children with Disabilities, Children with Disabilities Need Love Too, Don't Diss My Abilities – hundreds of these groups that people start up," Angela said. "You go in and friend everyone, and they say 'that's cool' and tell others who buy it. I can do it very quickly."

In addition to writing her "Wendy on Wheels" series, consisting now of four books, Angela has just finished a book for 180 Medical, a national catheter company, on self-catherization for children. The book features Emma and Ethan, twins just learning to catherize themselves.

"This is so kids can learn that it's OK to use a catheter and it's nothing to be embarrassed about," Angela said.

Washington University
The author has traveled to Abilities Expo, a worldwide organization that offers products, programs, and workshops for people with disabilities, their families and caregivers.

"They have products like wheelchairs, pads to sit on, cool little wheel covers, and ergonomic handle bars so you don't have to bend over," she said. "I give workshops at these events."

Angela will be attending the Abilities Expo in Chicago later this month. Mandy wanted to attend, but has her Spina Bifida Conference that same weekend.

Angela also speaks to students and provides workshops to children about young people with disabilities and how they are just like other kids. They want to do everything other kids do, and they have the same hopes and dreams, she said.

Mandy is awaiting surgery in two months to correct a surgery that was done last year. She enjoys embroidery and sells some of her items by special order. She hopes to start making her own designs and branch out to a larger clientele.

Angela's books can be purchased on www.Amazon.com. For more information on the Ruzickas, visit www.wendyonwheels.com.

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