Children's Book Publishing in the New Millennium: Compassionate Capitalism

A monthly spotlight on Children's Book Publishers who enrich their readers, their communities, and our World. This month: JayJo Books: Publishing Special Books for Special Kids
Forget Harry Potter! Read about Kim Gosselin and the magical adventure of JayJo Books...

A visitor to the playful imagination of Kim Gosselin, founder of JayJo Books, is likely to find himself joyfully overrun by a gaggle of giggling, bright, happy kids who go to camp, trick or trick on Halloween, and have just as much or more fun than your average kid. It might take a second or two to realize that these kids have special needs due to illness.

And just what is JayJo Books? It is a book publishing company devoted to the idea that childhood illnesses shouldn't get in the way of having fun. Gosselin and JayJo have produced a series of incredibly well written and beautifully illustrated stories that concentrate on kids with special needs dealing with everyday problems. These kids' stories are presented in a matter-of-fact, creative--and most importantly--fun way around the challenges these kids face.

For example, in Trick or Treat With Diabetes, Sarah has a dilemma. How does she get to enjoy the fun of collecting candy door to door when she can only eat a fraction of it? Sarah and her mom get together and decide that Mom can pay Sarah for the goodies she can't eat, and pick her favorites out for the ones she can. For a child looking at Halloween for the first time with diabetes, this book, chockfull of suggestions for making the holiday, ordinarily rife with sugary treats, still fun for a kid who is on a severely restricted diet.

Trick-or-Treat for Diabetes is long overdue in addressing the problems that may arise during Halloween for children living with diabetes. It is the only book of its kind; offering unique ideas to make every child feel free to have fun on Halloween and take part in the ritual of "Trick-or-Treating!"

Just who is Kim Gosselin, the impish founder of JayJo Books? She's a mom of two who decided to found JayJo when her five year old was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes in 1982. Jayson was admitted to the hospital in a near coma. After a terrifying but ultimately successful struggle to stabilize his condition, Kim wanted to do as much as she could to make Jayson's life easier. She was afraid that his fellow classmates would not be able to understand why Jayson was allowed to have snacks when they couldn't, or why he had to make so many visits to the school nurse.

Kim hunted bookstores for literature that might help his classmates understand what Jayson's life-threatening illness entailed in an easy-to-read children's format. She soon realized there weren't any on the market.

Like many truly great ideas, Kim's was born out of need: she decided she would write the book herself and give a mini-lecture to the class. Kim's funny yet informative style won the kids over right away, making Jayson's school life that much more easy. "It was really very rewarding", says Kim. Then she started wondering how many other children were out there that needed some friendly, non-threatening help from a family who had already been there. First Kim sent her manuscript to eight different publishing companies. While the publishers thought she had a great idea, they didn't feel there was enough of a market to justify the huge investment even a small children's book like Kim's would entail. "If they can't sell millions of copies, they're not going to take it on. Ninety percent of a big publisher's books lose money," says Kim.

Not long after, Kim found herself on a plane, wondering how to get her message out, when she had an epiphany: she found out that pharmaceutical companies often buy manuscripts, like Kim's, and produce books for tie-in giveaways for their products!

Kim realized she already had a built-in market for her manuscript! And if the book publishers wouldn't buy it, she'd just have to publish it herself...but how? She had no money, and no one to borrow from...and almost everyone was telling her she was insane to self-publish.

In typical, indomitable Gosselin style, Kim reversed positions: she went to the pharmaceutical companies. First, she had them place their orders, and then went back to the bank when she was sure she had buyers for her products. Not long after, Kim found herself putting in seventy hours a week in order to make her dream come true.

Next she would need an artist. But where would she find one? If Kim had managed to jump all these hurdles, she certainly couldn't let the lack of an artist slow her down. Aha! She called the local university, and asked an art professor to recommend a student artist who might be willing to work on commission.

Kim wound up with a highly talented, yet insecure and untried young artist who was willing to join her on her adventure. But could he handle the pressure? Between Kim's faith and the artist's willingness to try, they teamed up to produce JAYJO's first work: Taking Diabetes to School.

Taking Diabetes to School is the story of a grade-schooler with diabetes and how he tells his classmates about the disease and its management. The story offers sensitive insight into the day-to-day "school life" of a child with a chronic illness. Includes "Ten Tips for Teachers" and "Kids Quiz".

Over the next eight years, a lot happened. Fourteen more titles were added to the list. Kim employed five writers and a fleet of artists to her suddenly expanding staff. Kim found herself at the helm of a company that was worth somewhere in the seven figure range. The aforementioned artist found his confidence in a big way, and today works for Disney. And JayJo books is still going strong.

Kim's advice to other independent publishers? "Never give up."

For Kim, though, the ultimate reward is being able to make life just a bit easier and more fun for all the kids out there, running beneath a full moon on a crisp Halloween night, opening a present on Christmas morning, or just trying to get from second to third. And from many kids (and their delighted families) comes a resounding cry of: "thanks, Kim!"

Kathleen Youmans is a Reno, Nevada writer who has been reviewing books and writing features for Independent Publisher for eight years. Her work has also appeared in Dream International Quarterly, Weird Tales, Eldrtich Tales, The Friend, and other publications.