FRESNO, Calif. — Livy Garcia, 7, loves her aunt's new book, "Tiger Livy."
"It's about me being diagnosed with JM," Livy explained recently.
Livy has juvenile dermatomyositis, a rare autoimmune disease that can be life-threatening. The disease attacked her muscles, causing them to break down. She was diagnosed at age 5.
Her aunt, Erin Garcia, an English teacher at Clovis West High School, wrote "Tiger Livy" to comfort her. It was published earlier this year with donated illustrations from Clovis North High School student Ivreese Tong. Almost all the proceeds from book sales will go to support the Cure JM Foundation.
"Livy plays with her friends, and then I get sick," Livy said of the book at Vivily Vintage & Handmade, a boutique near Fresno High School selling her aunt's story, co-authored by writer Betsy Miller.
"And then I have to go to the doctor. ... I have to take medicine. I get a shot every week on Friday. ... Then I get better and my cheeks are already all the way small again."
Livy gained weight because of a strong steroid she had to take.
"That was kind of hard, huh?" Garcia asked her niece. "Do you think people sometimes didn't treat you the same because you looked a little different?"
"Yeah," Livy responded.
"Did you learn anything from that? If you see someone who looks different, what are you going to do now?"
"I say nice things to them," Livy said, "and help them and tell them it's OK that you look different."
As Livy gains weight in the children's story, she starts to compare her growing stretch marks to tiger stripes. Thinking of herself as a tiger is empowering and helps change her mindset for the better, which supports her healing.
"You do have a lot more power and control than you think," Garcia said of the power of the mind, "and there's a lot of scientific evidence that is coming out now that talks about how your mindset is an incredible part of healing."
Livy, who lives in Ventura County in Southern California, is dramatically healthier than she was last year. Her aunt said just getting into bed used to be a challenge. Now Livy is involved in gymnastics and plays soccer, basketball, and softball. She will start second grade in the fall.
Garcia decided to write "Tiger Livy" last year after failing to find a children's book to help Livy cope with the mental, social, emotional and physical hardships that come along with a chronic illness.
Her book is for sale on Amazon or in Fresno at Vivily Vintage & Handmade and Petunia's Place.
Clovis Rotary donated $1,000 that provided 100 books to the national Cure JM Foundation conference near Chicago that Livy attended. The "Tiger Livy" team received an award from the foundation for "extraordinary inspiration, leadership, and advocacy."
One of the heroes of that team is Ivreese who, as a high school sophomore, decided to do the book illustrations for free after being offered over $1,000 for her work. She spent close to 200 hours on computerized illustrations for the book, created using a computer program she taught herself.
"I would say the main thing for the book was to encourage and especially increase awareness," Ivreese said, "because you don't see these kinds of topics in children's books, especially. I'm just really glad we were able to get it out there in the world."
Ivreese and Garcia want to start working on another children's book together later this year.
Garcia hopes "Tiger Livy" also helps children who aren't sick better understand what kids with an illness are going through.
She compared her niece's illness to cancer, which can go into remission.
"She's doing great," Garcia said of Livy. "She's definitely on the road to recovery."
Livy has this message for others suffering from illness: "Stay brave like the tiger."