Author, Jon Roberts has been explaining conditions such as autism to children over the course of several picture books. His new title, ‘See What I Can Do!’ aims to bring together stories and pictures that will help children understand a variety of disabilities, in a positive way.
What inspired ‘See What I Can Do!’?
I have previously written a number of children’s illustrated books about my daughter and autism. Once my first book was published, I was delighted at how popular it became in schools. Children enjoyed the book and were genuinely keen to learn more about autism. It soon became apparent that there is a shortage of similar children’s books about other disabilities. I started talking with parents online and received an overwhelming response. Parents and their children were really happy to talk about their disability and wanted a way to tell other children about their lives, in a positive way.
There is a lack of stories about children with different disabilities all wrapped up in one book. Primary school children are at an age where they want to learn, they are interested in why other people behave or look or act differently. They are at an age where they have an innocent view of life and I hope that if we can teach them about disability, diversity and inclusion in school it can have a positive impact on them.
Tell me a bit about your daughter and how she has influenced your work …
My daughter, Kya, is nine and is a huge influence on my writing. I have always been passionate about diversity and inclusivity but more so since her autism diagnosis.
When Kya was first diagnosed with autism, we were devastated for her. She was such a beautiful, fun loving child and at first, we thought that autism was going to change that. Thankfully, we were wrong. Six years on and she is still an amazing, fun-loving girl with a great sense of humour, who loves life and loves school.
The one thing that worried me the most when she started school was bullying. I know how children can be towards someone who is a little different. Kya doesn’t talk and can behave differently to other children. She self stimulates or ‘stims’ by waving her hands a lot and sometimes pulls funny faces. I worried that other children might make fun of her. But when she started school we found that her class friends were more interested in why she did these little things. They asked the teacher questions about Kya, which gave me the idea to write a book with illustrations answering their questions. This seemed a hit in school and after a little while I was lucky enough to have it published with Graffeg.
‘Through the Eyes of Us’ was published in 2019 which introduced Kya’s best friend Martha, who also has autism. Autism is a spectrum disorder so I wanted to show that people with autism are not all the same.
After receiving lots of positive feedback from children, families and schools I wondered how I could help raise awareness of other disabilities. I wanted to create a positive book to help primary school children learn about children who have different disabilities.
I wanted to write about real children who I’ve met and to tell their story so they can share their experiences, their difficulties in life and to tell other children what it feels like to have a disability and how they can help raise awareness too.
How does ‘See What I Can Do!’ continue this theme?
‘See What I Can Do!’ is written in the same style as ‘Through the Eyes of Me’ and ‘Through the Eyes of Us’. It’s written as if the children themselves are talking about their disability, in a positive and simple way so primary school children can learn about disabilities, diversity and inclusivity.
I wanted each story to be unique. What the reader gets is an actual account from a child who has shared their story for the book.
What were the main challenges in writing this book?
Writing about different disabilities in a simple manner was always going to be challenging. I am not medically qualified and only have real life experiences in conditions such as autism, ADHD and epilepsy. I wanted to write about all disabilities but that would have been impossible to do in a children’s picture book. I also wanted to write about the different levels of disabilities.
What I didn’t want to happen is for someone to say, ‘You’re not an expert, why should I buy this book?’. I spent a lot of time researching and communicating with parents, friends and families who have children with a disability. I wanted to write about them, not their disability. I wanted to tell the reader each child’s story and what it’s like to have a disability and what they have to overcome on a daily basis; what they enjoy doing, such as playing sport or a musical instrument, playing with friends and so on. Most importantly, I wanted the book to be positive and helpful.
What have you enjoyed writing about most?
The most enjoyable part was meeting parents and learning about their families. I loved the way that every person I met wanted to help write this book. The book is not solely written by me, but by amazing children and their families as well. That is the main reason why I am donating 80% of my royalties from this book to charity.
What do you hope people will get out of this book?
I hope that ‘See What I Can Do!’ will teach children and their friends and family about disabilities, diversity and inclusivity. I hope that the reader will understand what it might be like to have a disability, to learn that these children are amazing and how strong they are and most importantly, that they just want people to treat them as individuals and to be kind.
‘See What I Can Do’ by Jon Roberts, illustrated by Hannah Rounding is published by Graffeg, and is available now.
A portion of royalties from the sale of the book will be donated to charities, Scope and Sarah’s Trust.