The Drop the Puck book series has answered the call for a popular children’s chapter book series that garners interest for the game of hockey and the life lessons that children can learn while playing and watching sports. Jayne Jones Beehler, the author of the popular 2012 political fiction novel Capitol Hell, wrote the series to promote friendship, inclusion, and teamwork by focusing on children with special needs and their place in hockey.
The three-part series tells the story of “a group of kids in fictional Hockeytown, USA, who bond and grow together, united by their shared love of hockey.” It includes characters with special needs, including a child with one leg, several children with cerebral palsy, and several children with down syndrome. Beehler’s inspiration for creating many of these characters comes from children with whom she has personal relationships.
In an exclusive interview with The Hockey Writers, Beehler discussed her inspiration to write the series, the lessons that readers can take away from her books, and the personal stories of the real-life children who inspired the characters.
Beehler Focuses on Valuable Lessons
Beehler grew up in the heart of hockey country in northern Minnesota. She described herself as a “hockey sister” with two brothers who played the game. Her husband is also a hockey coach. Her inspiration to begin the Drop the Puck series came when she heard a fan at a hockey game using insensitive language to refer to the intellectually disabled. This “teachable moment” helped spark an idea to write a children’s book about hockey while also incorporating characters with special needs into the story. The inspiration aligned with her emphatic belief in inclusion as part of the game and her personal experiences commonly seeing fans with special needs at hockey rinks.
Beehler authentically portrays roles that the characters with special needs play in the stories. Blain, a boy with down syndrome, plays the part of an “unsung hero” as a team manager in the first book of the series, It’s Hockey Season. Aiden, a boy with one leg, capably skates using sledge hockey equipment in the second book, Hooray for Hockey Day! Their contributions portray realistic instances of inclusivity.
The books also provide additional messaging beyond the inclusion of children with special needs.
“Every reader of this book is going to understand sportsmanship from a different angle.”-Jayne Jones Beehler
The two referees “encourage the game and the sport and also rules and discipline” for the children. Beehler repeatedly characterizes Ref. Rosee and Ref. Rylee as protagonists. Their position as respected figures of authority should resonate at a point in time when officials in youth sports aren’t always seen positively. Beehler also mentioned the “importance of family relationships and the importance of teammates, the importance of your attitude, the importance of winning versus losing” as lessons children can take away from her stories.
Inspiring Children as the Essense of Drop the Puck
The popularity of hockey laid the groundwork for the children’s book series, but specific children with special needs truly inspired the spirit of the stories. Ann, a girl with down syndrome introduced in the the second book, got her name from a Washington Capitals fan with down syndrome who famously got Alexander Ovechkin to sit down for sushi with her when she was 10 years old. Beehler adds interesting touches through Ann’s pleas to add sushi to a snack bar at a hockey rink and her aspirations of becoming an announcer for the Capitals.
Lila and Makenna, two characters with cerebral palsy, got their names from two real-life girls with the same condition. The real-life Lila dreamed of playing hockey after the family of Seattle Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol gave her the first book of the series as a gift. Beehler coined her as “the queen of grit and determination” in the second book.
“She does a whole lot of stuff that maybe some people wouldn’t think was possible. She water skis. She’s in beauty pageants. She does it all. She’s an amazing kid.”-Jayne Jones Beehler
Cerebral palsy, a “permanent movement disorder that stiffens muscles and makes for poor coordination,” frequently prevents children from participating in sports. However, Lila and Makenna have found ways to get on the ice. Inclusion in special hockey has impacted their lives in tremendous ways, as both girls have strengthened their physical capacities thanks to the stride motion of ice skating.
Zucker, Burns, Cullen, Nash Making Contributions Off the Ice
Beehler included former Minnesota Wild and current Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jason Zucker in the third book of the series, Hockey Every Day, Every Way. She commented on Zucker’s friendship with Lila during his time spent in Minnesota and his authentic willingness to commit time to be around when she was learning to skate, especially when the cameras were off.
Former NHL center Matt Cullen is the namesake of the series’ main character. The sons of San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns and long-time NHL winger Rick Nash also have characters named after them. All have made generous time commitments to help the book series grow.
“They (Cullen, Burns, Nash) have been absolutely remarkable in supporting the books, talking about the books, telling me how much their children like the books, and they have really great names for their sons that they make really good character names.”-Jayne Jones Beehler
Claude Giroux and Corey Perry are among an additional list of over 15 NHL superstars who have helped promote the series.
Give Drop the Puck as a Holiday Gift
Beehler is currently working on a fourth book about the kids from Hockeytown, USA. The series will make great gifts this holiday season or at any other time of year. The books are available on OfficialAdventures.org. Beehler is also staying true to her character Avery’s claim at the end of third book: “We want to recognize that everyone has a story to share.” She encourages all readers to send emails to email@example.com to share their own stories for future inspiration for her writing.
Colin Newby is a freelance journalist from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Flyers goaltending stats from 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the Legion of Doom and Claude Giroux to no-namers like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. Colin also writes fictional sports stories and covers the Philadelphia Eagles.