Hemelt: Crawfish story celebrates our great differences

Published 12:03 am Saturday, June 13, 2015

Wendy Cartozzo remembers the time approximately 15 years ago when she first took her son, Evan, out in public.

A little boy came up to her and asked, ‘what’s wrong with him?’

Of course, it hurt Wendy and she didn’t know what to say.

Ten years passed, but she came up with a response that has helped hundreds of children across Louisiana.

Wendy wrote a children’s book, “Beaux the Blue Crawfish,” and has spent countless hours since reading it to children, often as part of the schools’ anti-bullying efforts.

You see, Wendy’s son Evan has Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that varies in severity and causes intellectual disability and developmental delays.

It’s not something to be made fun of, and it’s not something Wendy wanted other children to see in their neighbors who have Down syndrome as something that made those children, like her son, any less special.

So, she never forgot what the boy said that day more than a decade ago, asking what’s wrong with Evan. She used it as the inspiration behind her children’s book.

“The book is about Beaux, a little blue crawfish, and a little red crawfish,” Wendy said. “The red crawfish makes fun of Beaux, because he is different. He runs away to the city of New Orleans and, in the end, ends up saving them. He meets a little girl named Olive along the way. Beaux the blue crawfish is my son, Evan, and my daughter Hannah is Olive, because she helps Beaux a lot and my daughter helps Evan a lot.”

Wendy said the book brings awareness to the fact everyone is different and we all belong.

“It took off, and I go to schools all around the state,” Wendy said. “I actually have a real blue crawfish named Beaux. I bring Beaux with me to all the schools and I read the book, and the students get to meet Beaux.”

Today, Wendy’s children Evan and Hannah are 17 and 14, respectively, but the characters they inspired have stayed locked in the consciousness of area children thanks to the popularity of “Beaux the Blue Crawfish.”

“I never had any intentions of writing a book in my life,” Wendy said. “I self-published it through Amazon, and when it actually came out, a few people saw it as a good teaching tool. It took on a life of its own. When I sign my books, I sign ‘we are all different and we all belong.’

“It’s OK that everyone’s different; it’s important everyone’s different.”

The book’s popularity inspired Wendy to write another story, but she has not yet decided to self-publish the effort.

She did once, with the help of a friend who works in the Lafayette public schools system, visit 20 schools in that district in four days, sharing the story of “Beaux the Blue Crawfish.”

Local fans will have a chance to get a copy of the book at the inaugural children’s book swap that runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 20 at the United Way office in Luling.

Parents are encouraged to come by the swap and exchange their old children’s books for others through an effort designed to keep local, home libraries stocked with new titles and children reading.

“I feel it is important for kids to love books, even if they can’t read,” Wendy said. “It’s fun for them to look through the colorful pictures and enjoy having a book read to them. I have always read to my kids since they were babies, and they loved it and it carried through their lives.”

The first 100 children to arrive at the book swap next week will receive a free, signed copy of “Beaux the Blue Crawfish.” Wendy will also serve as the event’s story time reader.

The United Way of St. Charles office is located at 13207 River Road in Luling.

For more information, visit uwaysc.org or call 985-331-9063.

Stephen Hemelt is general manager and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.