Born in the same small town just a few days apart, Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray have been blessed with a unique relationship. Their childhood adventures and shared interests make for many moments of laughter, joy, and shared memories. At fifteen years of age, a car accident triggered a dormant disease in Justin’s body resulting in a life lived in a wheelchair. Patrick has written about their experiences in the children’s book The Push (Tyndale Kids), illustrated by Justin and also Matt Waresak. The book teaches kids that people of all abilities have important roles to play and that we’re all better together than we are on our own…

Patrick, the story in The Push is based on your real experiences. What inspired you to share yours and Justin’s experiences as a children’s book?

Justin and I have been blessed with a remarkable friendship. It’s one that some people have a hard time understanding or even believing exists.

With so much division in the world, I wanted to create a literary piece that would bring adults and children together in conversations surrounding much of what makes our relationship work. The simple sacrifices in the day to day, the shared adventures, an ultimately the celebration of our differences are what allow our friendship to thrive.

Already, we have heard from many parents of both children with no physical limitations and children with disabilities, who are amazed at the conversations this story has sparked.

How much of the book features the real events vs being a story that’s inspired by what happened?

Marcus is the fictional version of myself while John is the fictional version of Justin. Much of what happens in The Push is based on real events or interests.

Both Justin and I have a love for jokes, we loved sledding as kids, and I was obsessed with the Red Sox and chess as a child. Though Justin’s disease didn’t manifest till late in high school the struggles he has faced a very accurately portrayed in the story.

Since Justin lost the use of his arms, I have fed, dressed, carried, and physically pushed Justin countless times. Just as he has pushed me emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.

Who are the ideal readers for this book?

Patrick Gray

I liken this story to two of my favorites as a child (and still to this day): The Giving Tree and Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Both of these books were ones I read with my parents and I have read to my children many times. They are books that bring adults and children together in both the way the stories are told and the conversations that come out of them.

The ideal readers of this book are children up to age 8 or 9, although we have heard from teachers who are using it in grades as high as 6th.

But this isn’t just for children. As said before, I wrote this story as a conversation starter. Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles are finding this story engaging and challenging as they read it to the children in their lives.

Let’s talk about the illustrations. What was the process of collaborating with Justin and also Matt Waresak?

This is a loaded question! Shortly after Justin and I returned from our 500-mile wheelchair trek through Spain, a friend suggested that a children’s story based on my relationship with Justin would be well received. A few days later I was at work sitting in my office and I had this urging in my heart and chest that said: “You need to write a children’s story.”

I closed my office door and began to write. Once the story was complete, I grabbed a large notepad and began to map out the type of pictures I wanted on each page. I am no artist, so the pictures were of stick figures, but the concept for the art was there.

That evening, I shared the story with Justin and he fell in love with it. We decided then and there that we were going to do this book no matter what.

But there was a condition to the artwork.

Justin Skeesuck

Years before Justin had lost the use of hands, he had painted a number of pieces that were done in pen and ink with watercolor. The style he used had always been one of my favorites.

When my wife and I were married, Justin gave us a painting in that style. The painting was of a childhood haunt where he and I used to go sledding as kids. A few years later, he gave me three more paintings in the same style.

If we were going to do this book, I was adamant that we use the same style—but we had to find an artist who could mimic Justin’s line art. After 82 proposals, we found a young man in Colorado named Matt Waresak who was able to nail the line art. Justin and I worked very closely with Matt as he created each of the images I had originally mapped out on my notepad months before.

Once the line art was complete, Justin took the images and began to paint each one with digital watercolor. The process was slow but using a stylus in the fingers of his right hand, voice-controlled software, and a lot of math, Justin was able to do all the watercolor found in the pages of The Push.

The style of art is engaging, bringing life to each scenario, but the story behind the artwork brings even more weight to the marriage of the words and images on each page.

What do you hope that children get out of The Push?

Already, we have heard from many parents of both children with no physical limitations and children with disabilities, who are amazed at the conversations this story has sparked.

The Push is about friendship, sacrifice, love, and overcoming limitations. Ther are so many messages that one can draw from the pages.

But my hope for this story is that it starts dialogue between young and older generations about what it means to be different, that people would see that differences are something to be celebrated, that one kid would see someone else struggling and step in to help, and that one child would see his or her limitations as something to be overcome and rise above the world’s expectations.

Both the story and the artwork demonstrate that no matter what our life might look like, we all have amazing things to offer the world.

Visit Patrick Gray’s author page here:
https://www.familyfiction.com/authors/patrick-gray

The Push
Patrick Gray
Illustrated by Justin Skeesuck and Matt Waresak
Tyndale Kids

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About The Author

Born in the same small town just a few days apart, Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray have been blessed with a unique relationship. Their childhood adventures and shared interests make for many moments of laughter, joy, and shared memories. At fifteen years of age, a car accident triggered a dormant disease in Justin's body resulting in a life lived in a wheelchair.