Welcome to Cantastic Authorpalooza, featuring posts by and about great Canadian children’s book creators! Today’s guest: Karen Autio. Take it away, Karen!
My daughter opened my eyes and heart to the world of disabilities. Annaliis was born with spina bifida and used a wheelchair from preschool onward. It was a great joy to see kids welcome and fully include her in their friendship circles. Because of my daughter, I’m keenly interested in increasing disability awareness, access, inclusion, and respect.
Children are naturally curious about disabilities. I wanted to write a story to introduce young children to different ways of getting around. A story to help them understand mobility equipment used by people of all ages. A story that could be a springboard for conversations.
The first inklings of I Can, Too! emerged from my writer’s brain in 2007 in the form of a picture book outline. As I reflected on Annaliis’s experiences with adaptive equipment growing up, I could see how the right invention made all the difference for freedom and friendship. I’m constantly amazed by how creative inventors are in designing devices to make activities accessible and inclusive.
Yes, my outline showed many mobility devices, but where was the story? I pondered but couldn’t see how to shape it until after taking several picture-book writing workshops. In 2017, thinking about Annaliis’s adventurous nature, I re-visioned the idea and the first draft of I Can, Too! was born (even with that title!).
In the story, I purposely did not label the main character’s disability, wanting Kayla to represent as many children as possible who use wheelchairs. Kayla is out and about, active in her community, simply demonstrating a different way of doing things.
While adaptive equipment works well to remove physical barriers, it’s people like Piper in the story who are invaluable for breaking down social barriers. My hope is that I Can, Too! will encourage kids (and adults) to say hi when they meet someone different from themselves and start developing a friendship. May this story help children thrive, both those with disabilities and those who will grow by getting to know these resilient, determined children.
When you read the dedication in my book, you’ll learn it’s in memory of Annaliis. She loved that I was working on this story. Annaliis was my biggest book promoter, and I wish she could be here to celebrate it with us. Wait … what’s that sound? I think I can hear her cheering from heaven!
Having raised a child with disabilities, I try my best to be an ally for people with disabilities. Recently I learned about Julia’s Junction, the first all-abilities playground in West Kelowna, B.C., coming in 2023. It will be fully accessible for children and caregivers who use mobility equipment.
I believe inclusive playgrounds are so integral for all children to grow, learn, and connect to develop friendships that I’m donating a portion of my royalties for I Can, Too! and its French translation Moi aussi, je peux! to Julia’s Junction.
I Can, Too! and Moi aussi, je peux! (releasing October 4, 2022) are illustrated by Laura Watson, published by Scholastic Canada, and geared for kids ages 3-7.
Karen Autio lives in Kelowna, B.C. She is the author of eight books for children and a sensitivity reader for disability awareness.