MOUNT VERNON — When Frank the dog got his wheelchair stuck in the mud, he needed his friends to help him out.
As Frank’s animal friends rushed to his aid, they pushed and pulled to help their friend, saying “Heave! Ho!”
While a slideshow of the book “The Adventures of Frank and Mustard: Stuck in the Mud” was shown on a screen in the Little Mountain Elementary School cafeteria, the school’s students joined in with the chants.
“Heave! Ho! Heave! Ho!” they chimed, some of them swaying back and forth as they did so.
From his wheelchair, author Simon Calcavecchia chanted it with them.
Calcavecchia was at the school Thursday to talk about “The Adventures of Frank and Mustard” series and how the students can take the lessons from his books and utilize them in their own lives.
“In life, we are all going to face challenges,” Calcavecchia said. “But it’s important we face them with a positive attitude. You can do just about anything with a positive attitude.”
Facing challenges head-on is something with which Calcavecchia has firsthand experience. Calcavecchia broke his neck playing rugby in 2002, rendering him a quadriplegic.
“Over the years, I’ve been on a mission to prove life doesn’t end with quadriplegia,” he said.
After his injury, Calcavecchia began volunteering his time reading to kids in schools and at The Hands On Children’s Museum in Olympia, he said. In a decade of volunteering, he never saw a book that had a character in a whweelchair.
“We need our kids to hear different stories, to have more diversity in the literature they read,” he said. “I want to use these books as a tool to educate about the perspective of a wheelchair user. To teach positive messages around inclusion, treating people with kindness no matter the differences and keeping a positive attitude when facing life challenges.”
That’s what inspired him to write the Frank and Mustard books and begin public speaking about three years ago, he said.
Themes for the books come from Calcavecchia’s life. “Wheels and Waves” is based on Calcavecchia’s experience trying to surf from his wheelchair.
At Little Mountain Elementary, the books have generated great excitement, especially for the younger students, said librarian Jessica Oliver.
“They like the messages about being different, but not treating people differently,” Oliver said.
Third grader Hailee Guy said having Calcavecchia speak at the school was “amazing.”
“I’m really happy that he kept his passion and he kept hope,” Hailee said.
Hailee said Calcavecchia’s message about not giving up resonated with her.
“Even though you can’t do something immediately, you should still keep trying,” she said.
Little Mountain Principal Susan Husband said having Calcavecchia speak reinforces some of the ideals the school and district want to impart on students.
“We want to bring as many experiences to our kids as we can,” she said. “We want to build students who have a lot of empathy and recognition that our world is very different for a lot of people. (We want them to think), ‘How are you going to go beyond your schooling experience and change the world?””
Calcavecchia said he wants the students to think about ways they can change the world together.
“I’ve been able to turn tragedy into something really positive,” he said. “I hope they take away a different way to think about their challenges. To know that no matter what challenges they face, if they have the right attitude, they can overcome them and persevere through anything they face.”