PEABODY — Joey DiOrio can’t read yet but the 2-year-old stars in a children’s book written by his grandmother and mother about a boy teaming up with his stuffed animal friend to overcome health problems.
Peabody native Mary K. Theo and her daughter, Cassie DiOrio of Beverly, self-published “Joey & Iggy’s Great Adventure” in July. Since then, Theo has juggled her job as a frequently-traveling professional with Boston-based auditing and tax consultation firm RSM with her campaign to get “Joey & Iggy” into the hands of sick children across the country.
“It’s a story of positivity. We want a child who isn’t feeling right to imagine feeling better,” Theo said.
Cassie DiOrio said her son’s health has improved with age. But the little boy faced multiple health challenges beginning when he was a few weeks old, including involuntary breath holding and digestive problems.
DiOrio took Joey to medical specialists who ruled out seizure-related disorders. But her son’s health problems led to developmental delays. She credits a Boston Children’s Hospital medical team that worked with specialists from Northeast Arc of Cape Ann for getting Joey on track.
“They changed our lives,” she said.
DiOrio worked to bolster her son’s spirits throughout the grueling round of doctor’s appointments with Iggy, a stuffed toy turtle. During the ordeal, DiOrio searched for ways she could help other parents endure similar health challenges involving their children. She discussed the idea with her mother and Theo had an idea.
She had previously entered an RSM corporate competition called Pursue Your Passion and did not get picked as a winner. But inspired by her daughter and Nicole Knudtson, a children’s author friend, she entered Pursue again in October 2018 and was one of nine RSM workers picked in January to receive $10,000 each and nine days away from work to launch their dream project.
“I was shocked I won,” Theo said.
She didn’t waste any time brainstorming book ideas with DiOrio and drawing on the talents of oldest daughter and former English teacher Maria Cameron to begin writing a first draft. The team finished “Joey & Iggy” in June and called illustrator Erica Leigh.
“She said, ‘Can you read me the story?’ She sat there with her eyes closed and listened,” Theo said.
By July, the collaborators had an illustrated book telling the story of how the main character, Joey, makes the most out of a day stuck inside his house by embarking on an imaginary adventure with Iggy the stuffed turtle.
Theo and her team self-published 900 copies of “Joey & Iggy,” and Theo hit the road to get the book into the hands of children in hospitals across the country and into Ronald McDonald Houses, focused on caring for and improving the health of sick children.
Her itinerary has included or will include trips to South Carolina, Chicago, Minneapolis, Tennessee, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta and North Carolina.
“I’ve had people buy the books and then give them back to donate to other people. They believe in the mission of a positive message,” she said.
DiOrio said she is surprised by the response and especially appreciates the decision by some book stores to place “Joey & Iggy” not only in the children’s book section but also the “coping” section for parents facing challenges.
Theo grew up on Cedar Grove Avenue, a third-generation Peabody resident. She works in Boston but still lives in Peabody. She said Cardsmart is selling “Joey & Iggy” at its Middleton and Saugus locations, and a book signing is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 8, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Northshore Mall Barnes & Noble store.
DiOrio said her son continues to thrive in the face of his health challenges.
“He’s amazing. He’s so happy,” she said.