Gina’s Wheels

7 January 2015

Gina’s Wheels
by Mary Harelkin Bishop
Published by DriverWorks Ink
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$13.95 ISBN 978-1-927570-12-8

I lived in Saskatoon for seventeen years, and during my frequent runs along the Meewasin Valley Trail, I would sometimes encounter a pleasant and energetic woman in a wheelchair. I recognized her to be Colette Bourgonje – one of Canada’s most accomplished Paralympic athletes – and I’m so pleased that the accomplished Saskatoon writer, Mary Harelkin Bishop, has penned an inspiring picture book celebrating both Bourgonje’s positive energy and achievement and the compassionate nature of a young child.

Gina’s Wheels is based on a true story as experienced through a curious “real-life” girl named Maeve, whose mother co-taught with Bourgonje in a Saskatoon school. Impressed by Colette in the classroom, at three Maeve began using her own stroller like a wheelchair to “[explore] the world in a different way”. Harelkin Bishop – whose name many will recognize from her highly successful Tunnels of Moose Jaw Adventure Series – learned about Maeve when she was doing research for her biography, Moving Forward: The Journey of Paralympian Colette Bourgonje.

Sometimes stories come about as if delivered on a plate, and kudos to the author for recognizing that this would make a good one.

On a “typical shopping day” in a mall, young Gina observes the passersby. She “love[s] watching people best of all,” and soon notices Colette as she’s rolling toward a display table graced with metals and photos. Any parent knows that children are naturally direct, and – to her mother’s embarrassment – Gina realistically asks the sit-ski athlete: “Why can’t you walk?” Colette discusses her spinal cord injury – the Porcupine Plain-raised athlete suffered a paralyzing car accident at eighteen – and explains what the Paralympics are before she has to leave for another mall engagement. Outside, Gina watches as Colette maneuvers her wheelchair into her truck. The child is impressed, and wonders what it’d be like to be in a wheelchair.

Back home, she fishes her old stroller out, and even though her mother attempts to “convince Gina to use her legs,” the empathetic girl spends “the next several weeks” before kindergarten doing “everything from her wheelchair\stroller.”

The story features a heart-warming conclusion, and the author has added information about and photos of “the Real Gina” and Colette Bourgonje, a ten-time Paralympian. I was delighted to read that in 2000, the City of Saskatoon honoured Bourgonje by naming a crescent, court, and terrace after her, and that in 2010 she was awarded the Whang Youn Dai Acheivement Medal, a special gold medal given to two world class athletes at the Paralympic Games.

The book’s illustrations – some full bleeds, extending to the edges of the pages – are credited to Diane L. Greenhorn, an artist, drawing instructor and animal lover who lives on an acreage near Saskatoon. The text is easy to see, even when superimposed in white over the pastel images.

It’s interesting to follow the careers of writers from my home province and learn how they’ve diversified in regards to genres. Congratulations to Mary Harelkin Bishop for trying something new, and succeeding so nicely.


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