Boy with speech delay hero in Judy Dryden’s unique Christmas tale
Judy Davidson Dryden, a Hannibal native, is the author of this unique book about a boy with a speech delay who saves the Christmas pageant.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
A newly published children’s Christmas book, written by Hannibal native Judy Davidson Dryden, reflects back on her years as a young mother to sons Ben and Stuart.
Ben, three years older than his brother, was a typically developing child, who spoke fluently as a toddler.
When Stuart came along, his speech developed slower.
“His first word was ‘baa’” Judy said, short for bottle, and his vocabulary didn’t progress beyond that. “He would point (to what he wanted) and he would have a meltdown when we didn’t understand him.”
Concerned, Judy and her husband, Tom, sought out help, only to learn that their son had delayed speech. “We spoke to different specialists, and ended with a therapist, who said he’s frustrated that he can’t be understood.
"He went to speech therapy for a couple of years in preschool,” Judy said, “and by the time he was in kindergarten and first grade, his speech had caught up with itself.”
"One morning, in the middle of this, I was holding him in my arms," she said, and Stuart pointed to his apple juice and said "Baa." My husband said, "There once was a boy who would only say baa.”
“That’s catchy,” Judy thought, and it stuck in her head.
“My older son had been in a nativity play, and I started thinking about a storyline where everything goes wrong in a Christmas play.”
That afternoon, she wrote a story about that little boy and the nativity scene. “The local paper in Connecticut (where they were living at the time) published it.”
Judy thought at the time that it would make a cute children’s book. “An artist was interested, but I never heard from her again.”
So she put the story in a drawer.
“A lot of focus in the aftermath of Covid is children with speech delays associated with mask-wearing and lack of socialization. Speech therapists are struggling to keep up with the demand,” Judy said.
She contacted publishers, “but I write in verse and publishers weren’t interested.”
But Judy still believes in the verse style of writing. “There is a demand,” she said. “It is fun for the reader and the listener, like a song without the music.”
So she and her husband set out on their own to publish the book.
“I did a search and found a very accomplished children’s illustrator in London, who specialized in children in a church setting.”
Judy and her husband contacted the London artist and she “found it charming.”
They also worked with a book designer from Wales.
“There is a lot to it, with laying out the artwork, and interspersing; how to block off the copy, how big the word ‘baa’ should be.” They decided the word “baa” should be in blue.
They communicated through Zoom over the summer. “It was quite a project,” Judy said, “producing it and laying it out.”
By Labor Day, they had a finished project.
“I always had a goal to publish a book,” Judy said. While she worked in the writing field for much of her life, “This is my first foray into children’s books.”
The response she has received has been very positive. Speech therapists are purchasing the book, she said, as well as early childhood teachers.
“People are really responding,” she said. "I’m very proud of it.”
The book is available on Amazon and through any online book seller.
Judy Davidson Dryden. Photo contributed by her husband, Tom Dryden.