Friday, March 23, 2018

Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship


Hi, Scott Magoon! I love when you visit Watch. Connect. Read. Please tell us about Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship, your inspiring picture book with Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes.

Scott: Hi, John! Thank you—it is my pleasure to be here with you once more. Rescue & Jessica A Life-Changing Friendship is a powerful book, with deep connections to my life and to my family’s life. It was written by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, wife-and-husband survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. They both lost legs in the blast and on her long road to recovery Jessica has come to rely on Rescue—her black lab service dog. In addition to companionship, he can perform all sorts of tasks to help Jessica through her day, things like opening doors or bringing Jessica her telephone. Inspired by Rescue, Patrick and Jessica have written a beautiful picture book that follows two journeys. One is about Rescue who is in training to be a service dog and the other is about Jessica, a girl hospitalized by injury who is learning to adapt to her changed life with prosthetics, and wheelchair and all new challenges. The last third of the book deals with how they come together and begin their lives as a team. It’s a wonderful and inspiring story.

It is a particularly charged work for me, closely connecting my own personal experience, my art and my love for the city of Boston. I was running in the Boston marathon in 2013 and my family (who were there to watch me run by) were caught between the two blasts. To have the chance to work on this book has offered a some closure to an open-ended experience for us. It’s been a very positive experience and I give much credit and gratitude to my friends at Candlewick Press for putting this team together and publishing this book.


Please take us through the process of creating one of the illustrations for Rescue & Jessica.

Scott: In recent years I’ve had the opportunities to draw many wonderful characters of humor, imagination and fantasy—dancing nuts, talking flatware or a reclusive dragon for instance. With RESCUE & JESSICA though, there are human & canine characters in real-life situations: some of those situations are every day, some extraordinary. Given this, I knew I had a good deal of development work ahead in creating realistic-looking characters, backgrounds and objects new to me: medical equipment, prosthetics, dogs hind legs, dogs front legs, dog heads (pretty much drawing dogs in general). To begin, I collected scads of visual reference including photos and videos of Jessica, Rescue, Boston locations as well as hospital equipment and procedures for, say, getting a patient up and out of their hospital bed. With these materials on hand I began sketching on my iPad for about three months straight. (Watch this time lapse video and you’ll see how much drawing, re-drawing and moving around I’ll do on a given piece.) Once I got the go-ahead from the Rescue Squad (authors Patrick, Jessica and Ann Stott, Katie Cunningham, Allison Cole at Candlewick Press ) I’d proceed to final art on my Wacom tablet here in my studio. After much trial and error I selected just the right palette and digital brushes—a crayon brush and watercolor brush from Kyle Webster’s collection. Each spread of final art took 2-5 days to complete and I often wondered if I’d finish on time but I did. Whew!

Did you meet with Rescue, Jessica, and Patrick while illustrating the book?

Scott: Yes! We met on Skype first though. From that first meeting I was so impressed by their spirit, humor, smarts—and good looks. Seriously though, given all they have been through there’s still this bright light turned on in them that I found both captivating and inspiring. Charismatic. Conversely, I had hoped I came across well to them—Jessica said later that she knew she had the right artist in me when she spied all of the picture books on the bookshelf over my shoulder. And we do make a good team I think. Further evidence of this was when the Rescue Squad first met in person at Patrick and Jessica’s place to discuss my sketches. It was the first time I was with an author in person as they saw my sketches for the very first time. I was very nervous about how would they react to my drawings. Seeing their reaction to what I had done in real time was really nerve wracking at first—but as we went further through the book and spread after spread went by with their glowing—and sometimes emotional—approval I began to relax. It turns out they loved a great deal of what I had done. I left their home thinking our meeting was an incredible experience. Not just because I had met these dynamic people but it also felt in those moments that I was doing what I was meant to do: illustrate books. Well, since that day Patrick, Jessica and I have been to each other’s houses with my wife and sons (my sons mostly wanted to hang out with Rescue the whole time). In fact, we’ve even created a music playlist for our dinners together and its quite a list; lots of good—if random—tunes. For instance—and I won’t say who picked it, there is some Christopher Cross on there (Ride Like the Wind). :) 



Please finish these sentence starters:

Rescue is the most amazing animal I have ever met. I’m not alone in thinking this: he is also this year’s ASPCA dog of the year—and with all of the amazing pets and service dogs out there that’s really saying something. He is smart, reticent but present and completely focused on Jessica when he’s on duty. Off duty he’s just as delightful but eager to run around and be a doggie.

School libraries are like their school’s sunshine. School is a garden of growth and opportunity, where we cultivate diversity of ideas and tend curiosity. But it needs more than just its classrooms, teachers, and students which are its fertile land, water, and seeds to work. A school needs something as powerful as the sun: a vast collection of books. Shine on, school libraries—you make gardens grow.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how people can learn more about service dogs and how they are trained. These dogs begin their training as puppies at special training organizations’ early learning centers. You can learn more about one such organization—the National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS) at their websiteThere you’ll learn more about the tireless work that NEADS does and the incredible dogs (Rescue is a proud alum!) that graduate from their program that go on to help people with disabilities. A proceeds of the profits from Rescue & Jessica A Life Changing Friendship will go to help their work and I’ll be running the 2018 Boston Marathon this year to help raise money and awareness for NEADS. If you’d like to contribute to help with their training of these amazing dogs please visit my GoFundMe page here.


Look for Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship on April 3, 2018. 

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