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Jessica Walton’s picture book Introducing Teddy started as a Kickstarter project, gaining the attention of international media and eventually, Bloomsbury Publishing. Now published in 13 countries and translated into 9 different languages, the book introduces the youngest readers to understanding gender identity and transition in an accessible and heart-warming story about being true to yourself and being a good friend. Jess is a cancer survivor, amputee, queer, daughter of a trans parent, feminist, musician and teacher. She has spoken to any and every age group about her book, writing, LGBTI issues, cancer and disability.
My first job was at my local library, shelving books. While I was at university I worked in administration at a book distribution company. I also worked casually as a ward clerk in a birth suite, an electorate officer for an Australian Democrats senator, and a call centre operator for a company specialising in women’s health. After completing my arts degree (Arabic major / children’s literature minor) and a graduate diploma in secondary teaching (English/Humanities), I worked as a casual relief teacher. My most recent role was at the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, where I worked for over two years. I’m now juggling parenting, writing, casual relief teaching, and speaking engagements at writer’s festivals, schools, libraries and even aged care facilities!
Identity, intersectionality, equality, diversity, family, parenting, education.
Collaborating with a talented illustrator (Dougal MacPherson of @15mindrawings) to create the self-published Kickstarter version of Introducing Teddy.
Neil Gaiman tweeting about our Kickstarter campaign.
Getting the call from Bloomsbury Publishing to say something that started as a little project for my family was going to be published internationally.
As well as Introducing Teddy, I’ve had book reviews published on Disability in Kidlit, and a blog post on Queer Girl Café.
I’ve written guest blog posts for LGBTQreads.com, the CBCA’s Reading Time, Better Reading, Nerdy Book Club, and Mum to Five.
I’m passionate about making children’s literature more representative of the diversity in the real world. I’m passionate about improving understanding of the experiences of queer people, disabled people (particularly amputees), and cancer survivors. I’m passionate about prosthetics that are out, proud and unusual.
You may have seen me talk at the Wheeler Centre with my dad Tina. Or reading Introducing Teddy with illustrator Dougal MacPherson at the Sydney Writers Festival. Or chatting with Dougal about creative partnerships on a panel at the NSW Writers Centre Kids and YA Festival. You might have listened to a radio/podcast interview. Or, you might have read an article about Introducing Teddy or our family.
Jessica had everyone in the room hanging to every word from the beginning. It was so emotional and inspirational. Many commented on how great it was to have a change of pace to the conference. It’s fair to say that she was the highlight of the day!
Her photos and books were great visuals and there was a lot of interest in her books. I personally really enjoyed hearing about Jessica’s life, she was very captivating.
Jess was a guest at the Carlton North Primary School Writers Festival in August 2016. She ran four engaging and interactive sessions with our Prep-Grade 2 students, with a lovely mix of age-appropriate activities directly related to ‘Introducing Teddy’, and then a thought-provoking activity and discussion about gendered toys and clothing. Jess has a lovely nature with the students and they were very responsive to the text and the content, eagerly wanting to borrow the book from the library afterwards, or getting their own copies signed.
I really appreciated the way Jessica framed inclusion as a philosophy to enact all the time. This was refreshing against inclusion always being discussed in forms of a deficit model where intervention is required. When there’s such a strong focus on intervention, it punishes the child for not fitting into the ‘norm’. There is no critical reflection on how teachers and ‘the system’ might be different or change in positive ways to support children differently.