Perth designer illustrates children’s book with important message by paralympian

Joel Blakeley, who illustrated Little Miss Jessica Goes To School, with Year 4 students  Maddie Loft, Adam Kempster and Hannah Williams. Picture: Martin Kennealey        d442992
Joel Blakeley, who illustrated Little Miss Jessica Goes To School, with Year 4 students Maddie Loft, Adam Kempster and Hannah Williams. Picture: Martin Kennealey        d442992

PERTH designer Joel Blakeley said it was a “no-brainer” when Paralympic swimmer Jessica Smith asked him to illustrate her children’s book promoting the importance of self-acceptance.

Smith, a positive body image activist, wrote Little Miss Jessica Goes to School based on her childhood school experiences.

She was born without her left arm, and at just 18 months she suffered horrific burns to 14 per cent of her body after accidentally knocking a jug of boiling water on herself while getting used to her prosthetic limb.

Blakeley, who had previously created a book based on his pet rabbit, worked with Smith as part of The Fig Café’s world record skinny dip and after seeing his illustrations, she asked him to help with her book.

“I said yes without hesitation,” Blakeley said.

“My favourite books have always been things from Dr Seuss, Shaun Tan and Graeme Base so just having the opportunity to work on a kids’ book with a great message and popular name attached is a dream come true.

“I’m really enjoying people commenting on the little jokes I’ve littered throughout (the illustrations) but more importantly, seeing photos of kids from all over the world enjoying the book, especially the ones in a similar situation to Jessica.”

Blakeley took the message that “everybody is different” on the road last week to read Little Miss Jessica Goes to School to students at Carramar Primary School.

He said he was excited to see how the kids would react to the story and to explain why it was such an important message.

“We can all get scared or nervous for reasons we’ve invented ourselves, even as adults, but when you get rid of those unnecessary fears, the world is a much nicer place to be with many more opportunities,” he said.

“People are weird and it’s fun to embrace that.”

For some of the older students, Blakeley also spent time teaching them about digital illustration techniques.

To get a copy of the book, go to www.little-miss-jessica.myshopify.com.