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2019 Schneider Family Book Award Winner: Rescue & Jessica

Rescue & JessicaRescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship

Written by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes; Illustrated by Scott Magoon

Published by Candlewick Press, 2018

ISBN #978-0-7637-9604-7

Grades K – 3

Book Review

“Rescue and Jessica had to start all over again. Slowly but surely, they learned how to do all the things they needed to do.” In Rescue & Jessica, winner of the 2019 Schneider Family Award, the story of Jessica Kensky’s road to healing after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing robbed her of the use of legs is offered in a heartwarming picture book autobiography. This is not a simple story of recovery, though, as indicated in the opening quote. Jessica experiences setbacks as she learns to accomplish everyday tasks with prosthetics. Rescue, too, must recalibrate his sense of purpose and build upon his strengths as he assists Jessica as a service dog. Kensky’s prose, co-written with her husband and fellow Boston Marathon amputee Patrick Downes, is clean and positive. Together, they portray physical disability not as a devastation but as simply a detour along the same journey and toward the same goal as everyone else. Scott Magoon’s illustrations are bright and colorful, underlining the optimism and pleasure that both dog and human bring to each other’s lives. An author’s note provides more details about the relationship between Rescue and Jessica, as well as information about service dog organizations. Recuse & Jessica is a wonderful read-aloud or addition to units on animals, difference, and overcoming obstacles.


Teaching Ideas and Invitations

  • Service Animals. Engage students in a study of service animals. The Authors’ Note mentions that dogs can often provide “a wide spectrum of assistance dog services” from hearing dogs to service dogs for veterans to social dogs for children on the autism spectrum. Moreover, although service dogs may be the most familiar to many students, there are a number of species that provide service to people, such as monkeys, horses, parrots, potbelly pigs, and even boa constrictors. Help students conduct research into the world of service animals using stories, informational texts, news articles, websites, videos, and other multimodal texts (see websites and books listed below in Further Explorations). Contact a local service animal organization to invite both trainers and people who use service animals to give guest presentations in your class, or to perhaps arrange a fieldtrip to see the animals in training.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy. The benefits of working and bonding with animals spans a number of fields. In particular, the sphere of animal-assisted therapy is growing. How exactly does animal-assisted therapy work, and what are the benefits of it? What is the difference between having a pet, a service animal, and a therapy animal? Immerse your students in an exploration of this topic. Guide them to conduct text-based research, and invite healthcare organizations that host such therapy programs to your class to give a presentation (see Further Explorations below for some resources to begin this study). Take students on a field trip to a hospital with an animal-assisted therapy program to see it in action. Since opportunities for animal-assisted therapy are also growing in schools, invite students to inquire about the pros, cons, and feasibility of establishing an animals-assisted therapy program in schools.
  • Picturebook Autobiography Study. In the Author’s Note, Kensky and Downes note that although parts of Rescue & Jessica are fictionalized, the story is very much autobiographical. Gather a text set of children’s autobiographies, such as Trombone Shorty, A Boy and a Jaguar, and Dreamers. Compare and contrast these books with information about the author available through other texts, such as videos, interviews, podcasts, websites, and articles. What aspects of the authors’ lives do they emphasize in their autobiographies, and what major life experiences do they leave out? How do they highlight the people, places, events, and experiences that influenced their lives, interests, and goals? Have students also compare and contrast the autobiographies in terms of content, style, back matter, and information about the writer. What, if anything, is similar about how the authors portray themselves in these autobiographies? After thoroughly exploring this genre, encourage students to write their own autobiographical texts using the texts you’ve gathered as mentor texts.
  • Duet Model. Pair Rescue & Jessica with Cori Doerrfeld’s The Rabbit Listened. What do the books say about helping someone who is upset about a loss? How are the storylines and characters similar and different? Engage students in a discussion about “just being there” for someone in need. What are the pros and cons? What makes it difficult or easy to do?
  • Schneider Family Award. Learn more about the Schneider Family Award at the ALA website. Gather a collection of Schneider award winners from past years and invite children to browse them with an eye toward the award criteria. Engage students in a discussion about diversity in children’s books and how the Schneider Family Award contributes to the social justice movement for diverse books (see the We Need Diverse books website for resources).

Critical Literacy

  • Representing (Dis)abilities in Picture Books. Along with the Schneider Family Award, the Dolly Gray Award, presented by the Council for Exceptional Children Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities, honors “exemplary portrayals of individuals with developmental disabilities.” Using these award lists and the help of your school or local librarian, gather a set of picture books that portray difference in terms of developmental (dis)ability. Some titles include Emmanuel’s Dream, by Laurie Ann Thompson; Dancing with Katya, by Dori Chaconas; and Look Up!, by Jung Jin-Ho (other titles are listed below and on the Schneider Family Award and Dolly Gray Award websites). Share these books with your students, having them note what kind of (dis)abilities are portrayed and how the character(s) address them. How is power conveyed in these books? In other words, what is considered “normal” in the world of the text, and how does that understanding position the (dis)ability being described? If help is offered by others, how is that portrayed? From what perspective is the story told? What is the balance of deficit-based perspectives (i.e., what someone can’t do or lacks) versus asset-abundance perspectives (i.e., what someone can do and has as a source of strength)? What is the role of illustration in these books? How do the representations in these picture books work to deepen, complicate, or reinforce understandings about (dis)ability? Invite community members with (dis)abilities to join the class discussion, perhaps in book groups, to help normalize the notion of difference and (disabilities) within society.


Further Explorations

Online Resources

Scott Magoon website

Book Trailer

News videos about Rescue and Jessica



Interviews/Discussion videos about Rescue and Jessica

Candlewick Press –

2018 National Book Festival –

The Washington Post –

The Boston Globe – –

Information about Service Animals

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) –

American Veterinary Medical Association –

Service and Therapy Animals websites

U.S. Support Animals –

NEADS World Class Service Dogs –

Helping Hands Monkey Helpers –

Alliance of Therapy Dogs –

New York Therapy Animals –

Animals and Society Institute –

Articles about Animal Therapy


Edutopia – –

Schneider Family Award

Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award



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Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.