From lemons, Kendra Gottsleben has made more than just lemonade.
The marketing communications specialist at the USD Center for Disabilities in Sioux Falls was born with Mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS) Type VI, a condition in which the body is unable to break down sugar molecules and causes skeletal irregularities. She’s authored three books using the allegory of lemons and lemonade to uplift and give representation to those born with special conditions.
Her latest book (and second children’s book), “Kendra’s Perfect Dance Routine,” was published in December.
“Representation matters in the disability world, especially with children,” Gottsleben said. “When you see something in a book or a movie or commercial or even a mannequin that resembles you, it’s a big confidence booster.”
“Kendra’s Perfect Dance Routine,” like all of the Vermillion native’s books, derives from personal experience, she said. In third grade, Gottsleben took part in dance classes, and though her mobility was limited and her joints tired easily, she said she loved it. The book is a collection of thoughts and feelings Gottsleben had along the way — practicing and perfecting a routine in preparation for “the big recital.”
Writing a book was Gottsleben’s childhood dream, she said, but it didn’t become a reality until a conversation with former USD basketball player John Kreklow.
“I was at [Augustana University] at the time and we were talking. He said, ‘have you ever thought about writing a book’?” Gottsleben said. “I said, ‘I don’t know, I’m only 27 and don’t have anything to say.’ He was like, ‘Yes. You do.’”
In 2012, Gottsleben self-published her first book, “Live. Laugh. Lemonade,” a small autobiography of her life thus far. Two years later, she self-published “Kendra’s Lemonade,” illustrated by Sioux Falls authors Molly O’Connor and Zach DeBoer.
Eric Kurtz, executive director at the Center for Disabilities, said Gottsleben’s positive presence rings throughout the workplace and the Sioux Falls community.
“It’s not that she just wrote a book — she wrote a book to bring awareness and be a resource for kids and families that experience life a little different than others,” he said. “She’s a must-have on our staff. We’re lucky to have her.”
Gottsleben said she’s grateful for the support from her co-workers in Sioux Falls and others who live with MPS. One community she wants to return the favor to, however, is her hometown, Vermillion. She said she’d like to do a book signing and thank the “Vermillionites” who’ve watched her make lemonade.
“Never did I think that one day kids could go to their elementary library and check out a book that I wrote,” she said. “The whole town is a true statement of ‘it takes a village to raise someone.’”