Imagine being born with a face that was different. Not with lots of freckles, or a large nose or big ears, but with a face that is considered freakish, caused by a mutation in a gene that caused the bones in your skull and face to stop growing early.
You have bulgy eyes, a flat face, a small head and other abnormalities. How would you cope? Children’s book author, Jenny Woolsey, was born this way – with Crouzon Syndrome, as were two of her children.
“Growing up with a face that was considered a deformity was hard,” Jenny says. “I was teased daily. Wherever I went I was snickered at, stared and pointed at. If it wasn’t for my family and my friends I don’t think I would have coped with the cruel taunts and physical bullying.”
In search of those who would understand …
Jenny is now a teacher and blogger, an advocate for inclusion of disabled children, and for people living with facial differences and mental illnesses. She has a Diploma of Teaching (Primary), Bachelor of Education, Master of Education (Honours), and a Certificate of Creative Writing. She is currently studying a Certificate IV in Youth Work and not only writes from personal experience, but aims to help children with their social and emotional wellbeing, having lived through a challenging childhood.
“I grew up feeling very alone and misunderstood,” she says. “There were no support groups, no books and literally no emotional help.”
She was told that Graham Kennedy and Marty Feldman had the same syndrome but that meant nothing.
After having her first child—also born with the syndrome—Jenny went searching for support groups. She found one online in America.
“It was so incredible to find other people who were just like me,” Jenny says. “I have since created International and Australian Facebook groups. When people find my groups they feel the same way I did. They know they’re not alone in their journey.”
Writing about her journey
Depending on the severity of the syndrome, a child can have none or many surgeries and this experience led Jenny to write a book for children with the syndrome.
The premise of Ride High Pineapple had been in Jenny’s heart for many years as there were no books around with the teenage main character with a craniofacial syndrome, but it was after leaving teaching in 2014 the right time to write presented itself.
“To raise awareness, my character thirteen-year-old Issy Burgess has Crouzon syndrome. Issy is fictitious but based on some of my own and my daughter’s experiences,” Jenny says.
Ride High Pineapple also explores other contemporary issues of anxiety, friendships, social media, young love and sport. It is raw, honest and gutsy. The novel is aimed at children aged nine to14 years. The Children’s Craniofacial Association in the USA have written the foreword and endorsed it.
“The nature of this book means that it will help any child or teenager who is bullied for how they look,” Jenny says. “I hope the story will give strategies for self-empowerment and self-belief.”