Australian teacher teams with child with autism to write, illustrate children’s book


(Courtesy of Justine Edward )

Seven-year-old Karl Gabriel has autism. But when his mother’s friend Justine Edward thinks of Karl, she doesn’t think about his challenges or disability. Instead, she thinks of his spirit, his love of Eric Carle’s book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and his winning smile.

So Edward, a teacher and mother of three in North Queensland, Australia, wrote a children’s book about letting your inner light shine. Then she asked Karl to illustrate it. The result is “Shine,” which Edward self-published in June. The text is written in verse form and the pictures are drawn in bold primary colors.

“I wanted everyone to see Karl the same way I saw him,” Edward said recently by phone. “I wanted them to see not just his disabilities, but the light within him.”

Edward has known Karl since before he was diagnosed with autism when he was three, and Karl’s mother, Sanya Gabriel, has always discussed his challenges and strengths openly, she said.

“I’ve been going on the entire journey with her,” Edward said. “He’s always been such a happy, joyful child, full of so much energy. Like a lot of kids on the spectrum, it can be hard to get him to focus. But when he smiles, he lights up the room. It’s so easy to be caught up by the challenges, to focus on what’s difficult, rather than just his incredible nature.”

Karl is particularly good with languages, Edward said, and can recite his favorite book in English, German, French and Italian. But drawing is more challenging for him, so it took him several weeks to complete the illustrations. The final product is peppered with specific references to Karl’s life. One illustration says “Ready, set, go,” which is a phrase Sanya Gabriel uses to get Karl to start his day.

Edward hopes the book will inspire all children who may be struggling with something, not just those with special needs.

“I wrote ‘Shine’ to encourage every reader to believe in themselves and reach for their dreams,” she said. “That would be my hope for every child.”

Mari-Jane Williams covers parenting and family issues for Local Living and schools for the Prince William and Loudoun Extras.
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