Purpose2Play Founder Kim Constantinesco is many things: a ninja-like athlete, a fiercely competitive snowboarder, and a journalistic champion of unsung heroes everywhere. Now, she can add children’s book author to that list.
Her first book, Solar the Polar, (MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing) hit bookshelves and online retailers in December, garnering such great response that it temporarily sold out within hours of release.
Anyone who knows Constantinesco isn’t surprised by the success. The ability to get things done is an inherent part of her DNA, evidenced by Purpose2Play and myriad other journalistic endeavors. But, a children’s book? From a high-adventure aficionado who believes “down time” means cliff diving or scaling 14,000-foot mountains?
To Constantinesco, that audience is a perfect fit for the playful side of her personality and her writing.
“I’ve always liked the idea of creating a world where anything is possible, and, to me, kids are the perfect audience for that kind of storytelling,” Constantinesco said. “I’ve always loved the fact that kids, as readers, are all about what happens to the characters. They have instant empathy because, to them, the world you’ve created and the characters who live there are real.”
The Story Behind the Story
Constantinesco started writing the first iteration of what would become Solar the Polar in 2011, years before she started Purpose2Play. At the time, she was covering the Denver Broncos for Predominantly Orange, but had been sidelined by a serious snowboarding injury that could have cost her the use of her legs. What started as her own personal recovery therapy quickly became her mission.
“I wanted to write a story that would not only entertain, but also make an impact. I wanted to write the story I needed to read when I was a kid,” Constantinesco said. “I can honestly say that I grew up without knowing anyone who had a disability. I, like a lot of kids, was scared of people in wheelchairs because I saw the chair before the person. I knew I wanted a character with a physical disability to be part of the story.”
She wrote a few versions of the tale, but, the characters never felt exactly right.
Ironically, it wasn’t until after Constantinesco started Purpose2Play that the lightbulb went off. The inspiring athletes she wrote about for that publication not only energized her, but, proved, time and time again, that near anything was possible.
“Every day, I was meeting and writing about these athletes that didn’t let what the rest of us would call physical limitations stop them from their goals or competing on a grand scale,” Constantinesco said. “I met people who were doing Ironman competitions without arms, climbing Mount Everest without a lung, and playing golf without eyesight. So, I decided to make one of my characters one of those extraordinary people: a little girl named Sunny who, although she was missing both legs below the knee, could do backflips on her sit-ski.”
The story, told in rhyme, begins when a lonely snowboarding polar bear named Solar leaves his melting Arctic home for the south to find a “high spot with mountains and snow.” He found a place he loved (presumably Colorado), but he was still lonely—until he spots Sunny twirling down the mountain solo. The two become friends; a bond that’s strengthened when they’re caught in an avalanche.
On the surface, it’s a book about a mountain adventure. But, at its heart, it’s a story about inclusion, courage and friendship—with the subtext that, if you judge someone by a physical difference, you could miss out on knowing an amazing human being.
“Sunny and Solar support each other—no judgment—and wish the rest of the world did the same,” Constantinesco said. “In a way, Solar the Polar, Sunny, and the athletes Purpose2Play covers all have the same goals. They want people to be mindful, empathetic and see them as the viable human beings (or, in Solar’s case, a bear) with hopes and dreams and fears and capabilities.”
Solar the Polar, in its simplicity, starts that conversation.
Even Miles Away from Mountains, Kids Relate
The day the book was released, Constantinesco jumped at the chance to do an in-person reading—not in her hometown of Denver or a high-end chain in New York City. Instead, she traveled to the Bronx, to read to three first-grade classes at Girls Prep Bronx Elementary Charter School, an all-girls, public charter school, seemingly light years away from the mountains.
According to Constantinesco, it’s an experience that she’ll never forget.
“Reading a book you’ve written to a class of kids is eye-opening,” she said. “They asked a lot of questions about Sunny—why she was missing her legs from the knee down and how she learned to ski. They wanted to know more about her, and I think those conversations are the root of true understanding.”
In one of the classes, after reading the book, one little girl shared the story of her own father, who lost his finger in a work accident. That was something she had never shared with any of her classmates before that moment.
“I loved that the book and the subsequent conversation about the adaptive skier gave this little girl the confidence to share her own experience with her classmates for the first time,” Constantinesco said. “That’s how acceptance and inclusion start.”
Part of the reason the book is so engaging are the illustrations by Jessica Linn Evans. The images bring the narrative to life, even for those who have never been skiing, snowboarding or to the mountains. Evans modeled some of Solar’s snowboarding moves off of photos of Constantinesco on her board, fusing the real with the imagined in an authentic, yet magical, way.
“I think the moment I knew that the kids loved the story and the illustrations was when we were taking pictures after the reading,” Constantinesco said. “One little girl grabbed my hand and asked if I could ‘come live in their classroom’. It’s hard not to feel good about a question like that.”
Dyslexic Font Makes the Opportunity to Read the Book More Inclusive, Too
Perhaps one of the most impressive things about Solar the Polar is that MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing made reading the book as inclusive as the story itself, with the addition of a version created in Dyslexie. This typeface, developed by Christian Boer in 2008, makes printed words easier to decipher for people who have dyslexia.
“Basically, dyslexia is an impairment in language processing that impacts 15 percent to 20 percent of the population. People with the condition describe looking at a sentence and seeing the words melding together, mirroring or flopping, or seeing individual letters flow across the page,” Constantinesco explained. “You can only imagine the challenge that presents when someone is trying to read a book, something the rest of us take for granted.”
With dyslexic type, every letter is uniquely shaped to account for that perception. Certain letters are spaced differently, twin letters are slightly inclined, punctuation marks and capital letters are bolded, emphasizing breaks and the beginnings of sentences and phrases.
“Studies show that 84 percent of readers with dyslexia can read text faster and easier with this font, even though it’s still in its infancy,” Constantinesco says. “That opens the door for kids with dyslexia to discover the joy of reading their own books, and for parents and grandparents with the condition to read to their children, maybe for the very first time.”
According to Constantinesco, booksellers and buyers alike are embracing the option, although the concept is so new that many didn’t know dyslexic typefaces even existed before her book came to their attention.
“It was super exciting to discover that Solar the Polar was available in an edition with Dyslexie,” said Daron Mueller, local author buyer at Tattered Cover Book Store. “It was the first time I had seen or heard about the font, and I was thrilled to make this version of Kim’s book available to our customers in Colorado.”
The Ride is Only Beginning
The rapid popularity of Solar the Polar and requests for readings and interviews took Constantinesco by surprise, as she’s more familiar being the writer behind the scenes. But, she, like her characters Sunny and Solar, is embracing every moment.
“The response has been amazing, from kids and adults,” Constantinesco said. “It’s proof that no matter what the medium, storytelling is powerful—it opens up people’s lenses to what’s going on beyond their personal worlds and better connects them with the people and world around them.”
Even if the catalyst is a talking polar bear.