24 April 2023

Riverina author Katrina Roe wins national book award with a true story about a 'pretty normal guy'

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Katrina Roe with her brother Charlie Hutchins

Katrina Roe and Charlie Hutchins moved to the Riverina last year. Photo: Supplied.

Author Katrina Roe’s picture book, Same, was inspired by her brother’s journey with cerebral palsy and has won a national award.

The Riverina author took out first place in the Australian picture books category of the 2022 Forevability Book Awards.

Same, illustrated by Jemima Trappel, tells the true story of young Ivy who is a bit scared of her uncle Charlie and his wheelchair because he’s different.

But Charlie finds a way to show Ivy that he is not so different, in a touching story about love, acceptance and finding common ground.

The story is based on a moment when Katrina’s daughter was very young, and her brother Charlie Hutchins came to visit.

As Charlie’s electric wheelchair rolled in, her daughter became afraid, ran away and hid from Charlie.

“I found it heartbreaking; she was struggling to connect with him, but Charlie was very patient,” Katrina said.

“We spent the day together and he continued to reach out and join in with what she was doing. She did a drawing for him and gave it to him and he reciprocated and did a drawing for her.

“Because of his cerebral palsy, his drawing looked like hers and she found it the next day and put it up on the fridge next to her drawing and said, ‘Same’,” Katrina explained.

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The Wagga-based author said her daughter’s action showed that there were always ways to connect and find things in common if we just look.

“It was a moment where I got goosebumps and I immediately wanted to share it,” Katrina said.

“I wrote it down virtually that day.”

Around that time Katrina was also aware there wasn’t much diversity in children’s books, particularly in picture books.

“The representation was often everyone had white skin, all looked the same and it didn’t show people with disability or chronic illness,” she said.

“It wasn’t really part of what children were seeing in picture books.

“I really wanted to represent that and all my books do that to an extent, they present differences and coming together to understand what people are dealing with.

“I hope Same helps people understand that if you look beyond the disability, what you’ll see is a real person who’s not that different to you” Katrina said.

Same had gone through a number of iterations but the former radio announcer decided to stick with her first version.

“I ended up going to the original story because that’s what was true to me,” Katrina said.

“It was hard to find the right illustrator because I needed someone who could show Charlie’s disability and show that he was alert and aware and fully taking part in what was going on,” she said.

“Jemima did a beautiful job.”

Same was published in 2015 (the awards nominations were open to books published in the past decade) and garnered a lot of media interest, but for Katrina and Charlie the feedback they received from the disability community was the most meaningful.

“I had people say they were weeping by the end of the book or [it] brought a tear to their eye,” she said.

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“It was important for Charlie to have that voice and have his story told.”

When Katrina was young she wanted her brother to do something amazing and felt his disability was something he had to overcome.

“As an adult I realised Charlie is a guy who loves a nice glass of wine and his coffee and likes to socialise with his family and friends.

“Even I had to realise he’s just a normal guy who needs a bit of extra help to do things around the house.

“He’s been to Scotland, he’s been skiing and has done things, but at the same time, it’s not his job to prove anything to the world.”

Katrina and Charlie feel honoured to have won the award as the family had to overcome the stigma around the disability.

“When I was a kid the word ‘spastic’ was thrown around a lot. There were a lot of upsetting experiences as a child and as a teenager.

“I’ve had times when even friends would avoid talking to Charlie because they were too scared to say hello.”

Born in Griffith, Charlie had a traumatic birth and almost died, and Katrina said she grew up knowing he was lucky to be alive rather than unlucky to be a person with disability and felt her brother was a gift rather than a burden.

The awards were created by children’s author and disability advocate Tabitha Page, in 2021. Forevabilty aims to promote books, podcasts and more which focus on disability, illness and other specialised subjects. They hope to inspire, empower, teach and support.

Same is available to purchase from Collins Booksellers, Booktopia and Amazon.

To find out more about Katrina and her work, click here.

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