Author Jessica Kensky says, “Kids have been so fascinated by us. When they see three metal legs and a dog in a red cape in a grocery store they are just so overwhelmed with new sights. They literally have walked into walls.” Rescue and Jessica is the story of Jessica and her husband Patrick Downes transitioning from able bodied to having three metal legs between the two of them after the couple was injured in the Boston Marathon Bombing. And yes, their service dog’s name really is Rescue.
While marathoner and Rescue and Jessica illustrator Scott Magoon walked away from the bombing, he had years of his “own homemade effort to recover.” He discussed the peace he found in working on this project. In particular his dedication to accuracy in depictions of people with disabilities, wheelchairs and prosthetics was an important contribution.
As the mother of a son who uses a wheelchair, I see the power of “own voice” authors and accurate illustrations when educating about disabilities. Beyond my own appreciation for this book, my fourth graders LOVED Rescue and Jessica and discussed it for a full 30 minutes the morning we sat on the carpet to enjoy it together. For example, Vita never knew that amputees wore “sleeves” over their limbs before attaching prosthetics (she loved the illustrations). Kai asked about the word “amputee” and we discussed how it comes from the word amputated. Irish was amazed that dogs could do things when human hands could not. Several of my students expressed empathy for Jessica when she had to have her second leg amputated. On a more serious note, many students shared that they hadn’t known about the bombing (I reminded them that they’d been in preschool). I had no good answer for the follow-up question of “Why would anyone do that?” I said, “This book is a good reminder that when terrible things happen, there are helpers. Doctors to help, therapists to help, families to help, writers and illustrators to tell stories to help and even pets to help.”
I’m grateful to the creative team of Kensky, Downes and Magoon creating this “own voice” book to increase our awareness and understanding of disabilities from traumatic injuries as well as the journey of rehabilitation, the role of service animals and the resilience of humans.
At the end of our discussion one of my students summed it up beautifully, “This is a story that’s like that question: Who rescued who?”