New children’s book is based on a Franklinville teenager’s experiences with a cleft lip

Paige Starr recalls a day several years ago when she, her mother, and her youngest brother, Blake, then about 5 years old, were standing in line at Walmart, waiting to pay, when a well-meaning woman but distraught turned to Blake.

“Oh no!” said the woman. “What happened to your lip?”

Paige felt her mother stiffen. Blake was born with a facial deformity commonly referred to as cleft lip. He had already undergone surgery to fix it, and he would have more.

Many children would have been upset by the woman’s callous question. But not Blake.

“I was in a fight with a pirate, and he cut my mouth off! But don’t worry because I won! Blake told him. “And he broke my tooth. See! See!”

The Franklinville mother and daughter couldn’t help but laugh. And Blake was just getting started.

“He was always unapologetically himself,” his sister said.

Paige, now 22 and a future teacher, hopes to pass on some of the inspiration her 13-year-old little brother has long been for her. She is the proud author of Brave Blakea children’s book recently published by Dorrance Publishing of Pittsburgh.

The hero of the book is Blake, a second-grader, who fears that his birth defect – a cleft lip – will affect what his classmates think of him and dash his hopes of winning the Best Smile contest. To improve his chances, he invents a story about meeting a pirate, only to get called out on his tall tale by the class bully.

Ultimately, our hero learns important lessons about the value of being yourself, as well as about friendship.

For Paige, Brave Blake is a dream come true. She has the unlikely combination of her brother and COVID-19 to credit for helping make it happen.

“For many years I dreamed of becoming an author, but honestly, I never thought I would be smart enough to be able to do it,” said Paige, a senior inclusive education major at Rowan University. “I have always associated this profession” – writing books – “with great intelligence and wisdom.”

But during the 2020 shutdown, boredom set in. While cleaning out some cabinets, she came across a project she had done years before when she was at Delsea Regional High School: a children’s book about a little boy like his brother and his pirate adventure.

The education major began revising her old project, turning it into a manuscript with a message for young people. Individual-starter, she began to sell it alone, by submitting it to eight publishers. Five turned it down right away.

Then, on Memorial Day, an email came to him. She could hardly believe her eyes: A publisher wanted to publish Brave Blake.

Since then, Paige’s project and the excitement surrounding it have snowballed. She loves having found her illustrator from her old high school, current senior Talia J. Metcalf. A student teacher at Glassboro Thomas Bowe School, Paige also had the thrill of watching her students enjoy her book; she gave everyone a copy for Christmas.

Additionally, the book’s theme of embracing differences is very important to Paige, who plans to attend Drexel University to pursue graduate studies in global and international education. Her goal is to teach abroad and promote inclusiveness in the classroom in other countries.

In addition to all that, Brave Blake is a tribute to a little brother who had a big impact on the life of the author.

“Although this is my book, this story is a nod to him and who I hope every child in the world will become,” Paige said.

She called the book Brave Blake because her brother is, she says. Of course, he’s also his brother, and sometimes he Is get on his nerves. But, she added, “He’s a very, very special kid.”

“Everything he does, he does with his head held high, his shoulders back. He’s fearless,” Paige said. “We have two other brothers, and he looks up to them so much, but he’s still himself. He doesn’t care what other people think. He’s not afraid to tell you, ‘This is who I am, and I’m okay with that.’ »

Blake, in his casual way, pretty much agreed.

“I was never really offended by” people’s questions, Blake said. “I feel like I’m a very strong-minded person. This stuff really never got to me.

Part of an outdoor-loving family, Blake enjoys sports, hunting and fishing with his brothers, 19-year-old Chuckie and 16-year-old George, and their father, Chuck. He has time to decide his future, but he thinks he would eventually like to join his father’s company, Starr General Contractor.

In the meantime, he is proud of his author sister, and he appreciates having a book inspired by her.

“I joke with her that I want a percentage, but that’s cool,” Blake said. “I read this a lot. I love it. It sums up the story, and I love that even since she first wrote it in high school, the story hasn’t changed all that much.

Stephanie Starr is proud of her daughter and youngest son and their differences.

Like many mothers, at first she worried about how Blake might be treated because of her somewhat different appearance, and she even felt a certain guilt. Cleft lip and palate are conditions that tend to run on his side of the family.

But Blake was always an original, even as a toddler. His daring encounter with the pirate was just one of the fanciful stories he happily told about his not-so-typical lip — even when people didn’t ask.

“He would tell anyone who listened to him,” his mother said. “You should tell him, ‘Stop talking to strangers. They don’t all need to know. But each time it was a different story. He just went with it.

Blake underwent two surgeries, as well as braces, to remedy his condition. More braces are in store and, according to her mother, most likely another major surgery. If it was up to Blake, however, he said he would give it up.

“I’m fine with my appearance,” he said.

Paige, meanwhile, has remained true to her passion for helping others, according to her mother.

“She was always wise beyond her years, she did everything early and she always had that caretaking quality,” her mother said. “And she still does.”

paige hope Brave Blake and his message will be one more thing that can help advance the goal of acceptance for all children. She doesn’t have specific plans for a second book, but she thinks inclusivity will likely be a theme she returns to when she tries her hand at writing again.

Meanwhile, there’s graduation to look forward to, graduate school, and basking in that well-deserved first-time authorship shine.

“Right now,” she said, “I’m just trying to enjoy such an exciting year of my life!”

Brave Blake can be purchased at Amazon or on the Dorrance Publishing website.

Christine E. Phillips