By A Fish
LEXINGTON; Ky. — Scarred sea creatures and elementary geography usually don’t go together, they do in the mind — and the book — of University of Kentucky doctoral student Bethany Craig. She has taken her research about the connections between scars and geography and applied it to a children's book about three sea creatures to make her research accessible to people outside of academia and to comfort children who undergo surgery.
“My research is all about how the body connects us to certain places and times, and I do that specifically through looking at scars,” she said. “I'm sure that when you look at your scars you remember exactly where you were, how old you were, what you were doing and all the events surrounding it. Scars kind of act as little like placeholders for times and places in our lives.
“I decided to write a kid’s book because I really wanted my research to be accessible outside of the academy in ways that research typically isn't and especially to kids because my research is very healing. So, I wrote my kid's book. It's titled 'My Scars Tell My Stories.' It's about three sea creatures who walk through this journey together of getting to know that their scars are not subtractions to who they are, but additions, and it's not something they should be ashamed of.”
After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee, Craig came to UK for her doctorate. She was drawn in by the Geography Department, and with the department’s support she finished the project.
“My goal is to get this book into Kentucky Children's Hospital, and that's how the book came about,” she said. “I thought about all these kids who were going through things that we don't think of kids going through. They’re leaving the hospital and feeling different about themselves because they have a scar here or there. They think, ‘I'm different and not a good way.’ We feel the need to fit in as kids, and I never fit in as a kid. I was a redhead; I was the odd man out. I just kept imagining a child feeling differently about themselves, then thinking negatively about themselves.”
"My Scars Tell My Stories" was Craig’s first attempt at writing and illustrating a book. The passion project began one summer in her master's program when she asked herself how she could make her research more accessible to more people. What began as silly doodles on Procreate quickly grew into something bigger. After much difficulty and concern over whether it would ever come to fruition, Craig published it in March 2023, and it is now available on Amazon.
“Not a lot of people understand what geography is, children especially,” she said. “When I was a kid, I took a geography class and all I did was color maps. I wanted to somehow make the book geography focused so I tried to add in little pinpoint signals that you'd see on a map or GPS system and talk about location and place. I wanted to slide some geography lingo in there without being too forward about it. That was hard; trying to talk about geography in not an obvious way and not a way that made the book boring.”
As a first-generation college student, Craig feels it is vital to give children information so they can find what they love. Craig postulates that if she had grown up in an academic space, as many of her peers did, she would have found her passion for geography sooner. She believes academic materials should not be limited to a small circle of elites, but accessible to everyone.
“The whole point of my book is to get people talking about things and get people to be more universally aware that people are different and that that’s OK,” she said. “Opening the doorway to conversations that we can have with people, strangers, friends, colleagues, about things that we think make us different or insecure. Many people will start to see that we feel insecure about the same things.”