Olympia-based author and motivational speaker Simon Calcavecchia will visit Castle Rock Feb. 7 for two elementary school assemblies and a public book signing at Vault Books and Brew.
Calcavecchia penned the three-book “Frank and Mustard” series, which documents the adventures of Frank, a dachshund in a “doggie wheelchair,” and his bird friend Mustard. The books are illustrated by Arturo Alvarez.
“Frank represents me, obviously, because he’s a character in a wheelchair, as am I,” Calcavecchia said. “I have quadriplegia, and I have Frank share my stories.”
The first book in the series, “Stuck in the Mud,” recounts Calcavecchia’s own experience getting his wheelchair stuck in the mud. When Frank’s wheels get trapped by the muddy spot in the road, he has to call on friends to get him out — just like Calcavecchia did.
The lesson to kids is “don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Calcavecchia said.
“In my life, I have caregivers around the clock, and I need a lot of help, so Frank has to have someone there to give him help,” Calcacvecchia said. “Oftentimes Frank wants to do things, but there are challenges. He can’t just do them on his own.”
The adventures of Frank, Mustard and their other animal pals share messages of inclusion, teamwork, conquering fears and the power of a positive mindset, Calcavecchia said.
Calcavecchia travels around the region to share his personal journey in learning these lessons after he broke his neck at 19 in a rugby accident, he said.
“People have always appreciated that about me: how I refuse to let my disability stop me from doing what I want to do in my life,” said Calcavecchia, who now plays wheelchair rugby and has gone on “a lot of different adventures,” like surfing in the Pacific Ocean, since his accident.
“I love to share that because then that message carries over into my life into the children’s books, and then the children (are) thinking of that when they have their challenges.”
Before becoming an author and speaker, Calcavecchia spent about a decade volunteering to work with children. The experienced spurred him to start his own YouTube channel to document his adventures. It also inspired Frank and Mustard, he said.
“In that time (I volunteered), I never once saw a children’s book in the classroom that had a character using a wheelchair, and I wanted to change that,” Calcavecchia said.
The goal was to add diversity in children’s books, build more empathy toward people with disabilities and teach children how to accept differences, he said.
“Even as an adult there are times when people yell something out their car window at me as they drive by on the street or murmur things to each other when they walk by,” Calcavecchia said. “Those are the times I feel the most disabled, and they also really hurt my feelings. And I thought if I was experiencing this as an adult, without a doubt kids experience this.
Jennifer Engkraf, owner of Vault Books and Brew, said she ordered Calcavecchia’s series because “his books are presented in a way kids can respond to. … They are colorful and happy.”
She reached out to the author earlier this year to organize his visit to Castle Rock.
“Any way I am able to foster disability awareness and empathy for others, I want to do it,” Engkraf said. “I think showing empathy at a young age helps everyone in the long run. It helps you become a better citizen of the world. Castle Rock is a small town, but if you can be a better person here, you can go on and be a better person anywhere.”
Calcavecchia’s visit will also expose Castle Rock students to someone different in a town that “doesn’t have a lot of diversity, necessarily,” Engkraf said.
Calcaveccia will spend the morning in the elementary schools. He will finish his visit with a book signing and brief lecture at the downtown bookstore. The signing starts at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public.
“I want the kids to be really excited about learning about differences with the style of book I’ve created,” Calcavecchia said. “I just think these are all such important topics for improving the world overall and getting good messages into children’s books for kids at a young age.”