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Author hopes book helps raise awareness of children with disabilities

By Sonny Long
Aug. 10, 2010 at 3:10 a.m.

Jeralyn Barta, of Moulton, right, has written a children's book that deals with the struggles of children with disabilities. Harriet Briseno, of Shiner, left, illustrated the book.

BUY THE BOOKTo purchase a copy of "Rolling With Life" by Jeralyn Barta of Moulton, go to amazon.com or authorhouse.com.

SHINER - Working with children with disabilities has given Jeralyn Barta a unique insight into some of the challenges they face.

Barta, a licensed specialist in school psychology with the Cuero school district who has worked with children for 15 years, has transferred her on-the-job interaction into a children's book that she hopes will help other children understand those who live with disabilities.

"They would tell me stories about what things were like for them," said Barta, a 1990 graduate of St. Paul High School in Shiner, who now lives in Moulton. "One young lady told me about being bullied and teased by peers. This particular incident moved me, and I wrote a poem about it."

BIRTH OF THE BOOK

Barta said she often uses poetry as part of her counseling and her students liked this particular poem a lot.

So she talked to the girl who told her the story that inspired the poem.

"I asked her what can we do to use this? Not just so she could relate to it, but so we could teach other kids what it's like for you so this doesn't keep happening," she said.

Barta transformed the poem into a children's book, "Rolling With Life," published in April by AuthorHouse.

The book is about a young girl, Reagan, who was born with a disability that forces her to use a wheelchair.

The book addresses Reagan's struggles and her attempt to teach others that they are not that different.

ILLUSTRATOR NEEDED

For Barta, after finding a publisher interested in the idea, the next step was to find an illustrator.

"I could have used the company illustrator, but that wasn't personal enough for me," Barta, 38, said. "I wanted someone that I could meet with who would know what I was really trying to accomplish."

She went through two illustrators then a chance conversation with a co-worker led her to Harriet Briseno.

Harriet's husband, Eddie Briseno, is a drop-out prevention specialist in the Gonzales school district where Barta worked last year.

Barta mentioned to him that she was looking for an illustrator and Briseno told her that his wife was an artist.

So Harriet and Barta came together.

"We met last June and I told her what I was trying to do," Barta said. "She did a few sketches, and as her sketches evolved the more I knew she was the right person for the job."

"She was able to crawl in my head, see what was in there and bring it to life," said Barta.

FIRST TIMER

Briseno, who has lived in Shiner since 1999, said she was apprehensive about taking on the project.

"I was intrigued and kind of scared. I'd never tried anything like that before," said the 55-year-old grandmother of four who has an associate's degree in commercial art and advertising. "I have been doing art since I've been able to pick up a crayon, so I guess you can say I've been studying art all my life. I just thought I'd give it a try."

Briseno said Barta would describe a scene and "images would start popping into my mind."

"These kids started taking on lives and personalities of their own," she said. "I had never gotten into drawing people. The story drew me in and got me more interested in how to draw these scenes and interactions. It has expanded my awareness as an artist."

The author said her illustrator nailed the main character.

"She's a tough girl, she's determined. I want people to see her strength, but she's frustrated," said Barta. "Harriet really captured her spirit."

RAISING AWARENESS

Barta hopes the storybook for ages 3 to 10 expands people's awareness of the plight of those with disabilities.

"It's a children's book, but I also envision it in classrooms and in school libraries," she said.

Barta plans a second edition of "Rolling With Life," an expanded version that will address specific strategies, focus more on bullying and include activities and questions that can be used as a resource by school counselors. A publisher has already expressed interest in the expanded version.

With bullying coming more into the spotlight, Barta said her book is right on target.

"That's exactly the issue it is addressing," she said. "And it's not just children in wheelchairs, it happens to all kids, but especially those with different kinds of needs."

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