MORA — JoJo the mule, the subject of a new character-building children’s book, is promoting a celebration of differences.

“Adventures at Von Holten Ranch JoJo” is the second book in a five-book series written by Brandy Von Holten, who owns an equine riding facility with her husband, David Von Holten, in Mora.

Von Holten invited family and friends, including Sedalia Ward 1 City Councilman Tom Oldham and Kevin Johnson, 36 of Sedalia, and Eric Crosby, 23 of Fulton, who both have Down Syndrome, to the ranch Saturday to meet JoJo and learn about the upcoming book.

The book has been sent to print and will be available before Christmas. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City.

“In his book, it talks about his struggles with improving, but at the end, he views his actual differences as his strengths,” Von Holten said of JoJo.

Von Holten said JoJo’s differences stem from the fact he has 63 chromosomes versus a horse’s 64 and a donkey’s 62. That small difference gives him the advantage of having a smooth canter when he performs in mounted archery competitions and has also brought him several championships.

“With this book embracing (JoJo’s) differences as being his strength, I reached out to the Down Syndrome community to have a character that they could relate to,” she noted. “To show that he’s a champion.”

Von Holten, who once taught special needs children, added that children can relate to characters such as in “Finding Nemo” and “Bambi” much easier. It’s also easier for them to learn a lesson through characters. Presenting JoJo the mule’s differences in the book is in the same vein.  

Terry Gautreaux, owner of Gautreaux’s Martial Art Center of Blue Springs, teaches a Rising Stars Taekwondo class for children with special needs. She was also at the ranch on Saturday.

“The Rising Stars program, I’ve had it for about 12 years, we have all kinds of kids with different disabilities that participate in the class,” Gautreaux said. “… We started the class so they could feel the same success as everyone else. We feel that’s super important.

“Every child should be given the same opportunities,” she continued. “I think that’s what this book talks about is, it doesn't matter what your ability or disability is. None of that matters, because if you tell someone you’re going to be successful … they’re going to find a way to be successful.”

Gautreaux added no one should put limits on others.

“That’s the point of her book,” Gautreaux said. “Don’t tell someone what they can’t do, tell them what you believe they’re capable of doing and they will figure out a way.”

Randy Johnson, of Sedalia, and father of Kevin, said he found out about JoJo’s book on Facebook and decided to attend the Saturday event.

“I think it’s making awareness that everybody’s different,” he said. “Like with Down Syndrome, you have a different amount of chromosomes, but just because you’re different doesn’t mean you’re any different than anybody else. We’re just people.”

Councilman Oldham said he met Von Holten at a Sedalia Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast. Oldham noted he is trying to bring awareness of autism to the local area.

“I’m on this path to make Sedalia autism-friendly,” he added. “I asked Brandy if she had any training and that’s when we kind of clicked. She wants to attend Eagala training which would start with equine training for those affected with autism and PTSD.”

For more information about “Adventures at Von Holten Ranch JoJo,” call the ranch at 816-719-5988 or visit the Facebook page or vonholtenranch.com.

Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Faith Bemiss is a reporter for the Sedalia Democrat, covering general assignment, arts, food and entertainment stories. She can be reached at 660-530-0289.

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