By Josh Saunders
A doting father has made an empowering children’s book about being different after his daughter was bullied for the unusual toe walking condition.
Dr. Christopher Knott-Craig, 64, from Memphis, Tennessee, started telling young Cate bedtime tales to stop her from feeling embarrassed and to ignore classmates who believed she was ‘attention seeking’.
She started toe walking at three-years-old, which is where children run, dance and move on their tiptoes instead of the entire foot.
By the age of six, the ailment caused her tendons to shorten, preventing her from being able to walk on the flats of her feet and leaving her with balance issues.
Cate had surgery to stretch out and lengthen the restricted fibrous connective tissue, and after having both legs in a cast, was able to walk normally nine months ago.
Now her dad, originally from Oudtshoorn, South Africa, has transformed the empowering stories into ‘The Weird Animal Club’ series.
The stories that helped Cate, now eight-years-old, are now is inspiring other kids to accept and appreciate their unique qualities.
Chris, a Pediatric Cardiovascular surgeon, said: “The original genesis, was that Cate was a toe-walker, it’s not all that uncommon and most time they outgrow it as they get taller and heavier.
“But Cate didn’t outgrow it, she stood on her toes and kids at school made fun of her, they said she was trying to get attention and teachers at school thought she was fidgety.
“She wouldn’t sit still and conform to normal things, so at night time I related that to an animal that was different and a little weird in the stories I told her.
“The whole narrative of the stories was focussed around the animals who made friends with other animals, who were a little strange and became the ‘Weird Animal Club’.
“She loved the stories, in retrospect, looking at the story now it’s about diversity and acceptance.
“But initially it started off as a father telling stories to his daughter to make her feel good about herself and not like a ‘weird person’ for walking on her toes.
“The stories did wonders for her self-esteem and she eventually encouraged me to share my tales with other kids.
“Both her and I want to make sure others can face differences with confidence and compassion.
“The analysis came later, once other adults read the books, it’s about diversity and differences, showing it’s ok to be different.
“We aren’t all cookie cutter people and should embrace our difference because they make us special.”
Most children typically outgrow idiopathic toe walking, but for children like Cate, who suffer lasting effects, surgery is required.
The ailment can cause difficulties with balance, problems with the balls of the feet reaching the ground and social stigma for being different.
Chris said: “Kids normally walk on flat feet like all of us, when kids run or dance on their toes they revert back to walking on an entire foot.
“Some kids don’t, they tend to stay on their toes and keep the heel off the ground, so they appear to be standing on their tip toes.
“Sometimes this is caused by a sensory abnormality, that the heel is very sensitive, so they keep it off the ground as it feels ticklish or uncomfortable and they stand on their toes.
“Over time, the tendons of the calf muscle become shortened as the foot is not stretched out.
“When they are shortened, it can get to the point where the kid cannot walk on their flat feet and they are perpetually on their toes, that has to be corrected with surgery.
“They make a cut on the lower leg over the Achilles tendon, they cut where the muscle and tendons are attached and stretch it out.
“Once that’s completely they are put in leg casts with their feet at 90 degrees for between a month and six weeks, by the time it comes off the tendons have straightened so they can walk.
“The muscles you use when walking normally are underdeveloped and weak, so it takes six to nine months for the legs to become strong enough.”
Chris believes his passion for storytelling stemmed from his upbringing in South Africa, where instead of engaging with electronic devices or TV, people would talk and tell tales.
Many years later, what started off as routine bedtime stories, made-up on the spot to empower Cate would be developed into a book.
He said: “I told these stories off the top of my head, every night a new story, then last year I had a period of time-off.
“I needed to do something to keep busy and my wife said, ‘Why don’t you turn the stories into a book’ the ones that you told Cate.
“By then, I had forgotten half of the stories, but thankfully Cate remembered everyone, as well as the animals and the names – if I got anything wrong she would correct me.”
He started the project with Cate’s assistance and even let her draw the initial sketches that illustrator Simon Goodway, from England, UK, would use for the book.
‘The Weird Animal Club: It’s Ok to be Different’, tells the tale of a diverse group of animals each with a unique physical appearance that bond and grow in confidence together.
It aims to show that differences aren’t disqualifying factors when making friends and that individual qualities should be cherished and celebrated.
Since the book’s release, Chris says his daughter is delighted with the finished work and even encourages him to read them to her classmates.
Chris said: “They have a Parents’ Day, where one of the kids parents come to school, you spend 45 minutes with the class and when it was my turn, she wanted me to read these books.
“If I mispronounced a word or didn’t pause at the right point she would tell me, it was quite funny, she has complete ownership of the book.”
Chris now has sequels ‘The Weird Animal Club goes to school’ and ‘at Halloween’ in the pipeline.
He says that he’s noticed children with other medical problems and conditions connecting to characters in the book.
Chris added: “The interesting thing is one of the spin-offs of the book, the kids with heart disease and other problems relate so well to it.
“It started off as being about Cate and her toe walking, but kids who have had heart surgery with scars on their chests, or cancer patients losing their hair, have all related to it too.
“I would like to say I was very smart and anticipated it, but that’s nonsense, I told those stories to comfort my daughter, but it’s became therapeutic for a wide range of people with ailments.”
For more information visit: www.chrisknottcraig.com.