In 1987, when I was telling stories at the Calgary French School in Alberta, I asked who wanted to be in a new story. A kid named Grant Wiesgerber stuck up his hand and said that he liked bicycles; so I made up a bicycle story. In the story Grant bought a bicycle that was so fast that he ended up getting a speeding ticket. I had just made it up as an example of how I work, but I found that I kept telling it. It proved to be a very adaptable story because I could use it for anything that had wheels and some things that did not, like pogo sticks and skis. It also worked for wheelchairs, and I began using it whenever there was a kid in the audience who had a wheelchair.
As time went by, various elements got into the story and it finally settled down into the version that is in the book, except that I still kept changing around what it was that the kid in the story wanted. It was my “BICYCLE or SKATEBOARD or WHEELCHAIR or SKI or SURFBOARD or CAR or ROCKET or CANOE” story, depending on where I was telling it, but I found that If felt best telling it about kids in wheelchairs.
Then, in 1997, a girl named Lauretta wrote me this letter:
“Could you Please write a story about a little girl who walks with crutches and uses a wheelchair”
Lauretta’s mom sent along a note saying that Lauretta was born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus and Scoliosis and used crutches for short distances and a wheelchair for longer trips. (Much later, when I visited, I found that Lauretta also like to get carried around by any adult she could con into carrying her.)
I sent Lauretta a copy of the story and later met her at one of my concerts. I decided to make the “BICYCLE or SKATEBOARD or WHEELCHAIR or SKI or SURFBOARD or CAR or ROCKET or CANOE” story into a wheelchair book.
(REMEMBER: Just because I made it into a WHEELCHAIR book does not mean that you can not TELL it to your kid as a BICYCLE or SKATEBOARD or SKI or SURFBOARD or CAR or ROCKET or CANOE story. The trouble with books is that they take a nice EVERYTHING story and turn it into a ONE THING book.)
Now there was a problem. What about Grant, the first kid I had made the story up about? I wrote him and said that I wanted to take the bicycle story and change it into a wheel chair story for a kid who used a wheelchair. He wrote back and said that it was ok. Maybe the fact that he was by this time 20 years old helped him to make his decision.
Then I went to Orillia, Ontario and took lots of pictures of Lauretta and her family and their dogs and birds and cats and house and driveway. The story was all ready to have the art done. There was just one BIG problem. Scholastic, my publisher had not agreed to do the book. So I did a big sell job and, after about 2 years, they said “Yes.”
It needed a title. Calling it “THE BICYCLE OR SKATEBOARD OR SKI OR SURFBOARD OR CAR OR ROCKET OR CANOE STORY WHICH IS NOW A WHEELCHAIR STORY” did not make a good title. We tried all kinds of titles and I finally suggested ZOOM.