Woburn local and children's author Ashley Coates has completed an astounding amount of fieldwork and professional time with children in order to inform her new series.
Having just finished her Masters' in Organizational Leadership, Coates is also a trained Educational Advocate, a Special Education Surrogate Parent through the Department of Children and Families, a member of the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress, a freelance nanny for children who have special needs, and an information center associate at the Federation for Children with Special Needs. She's also a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) fellow at Children's Hospital Boston. And, as if Coates' resume wasn't as long as her fairy-tale blonde hair, she's added children's book author to her list of accomplishments!
Coates' book, "My Brother's Sister", is the first installation in a series she calls "Super Siblingz." The book is a playful, rhyming exploration of having a brother on the autism spectrum. The story follows, through gentle verse and brightly colored illustrations, a young girl who feels left out, confused by, and annoyed with her brother's behaviors. "Other kids go on vacations and trips," Coates' narrator says," [...] we go to therapy, doctors and clinics..."
We asked Ashley Coates a few questions to find out more about her book, and her vision for children who may or may not have special needs.
BBE: "My Brother's Sister" is such a charming, useful book. What made you want to write it?
AC: Well, it can sometimes be tricky to understand the complexities of disability. My hope is that kids will find "My Brother's Sister" both relatable and informational. I've worked with kids and families that have a variety of disabilities for the last 10 years and I've seen the challenges faced by the, well, "forgotten family member". The sibling relationship is often complicated, but when we add in disability, the frustration, feelings of embarrassment and at the same time, the love and protection of a brother or sister is magnified.
BBE: Sure. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease."
AC: Right. I've had wonderful opportunities to support families in the home for many years, and recently I became a Sibshop facilitator. It's enlightening and emotional, you know?. It's hard to hear brothers and sisters tell me they're not as important, or that their parents don't have the time to spend with them, because of their sibling's disability. But at the same time, I've heard kids who are fiercely protective of their brother or sister, and they see themselves as their protector, friend and biggest cheerleader. Both siblings can get something out of "My Brother's Sister."
BBE: It's funny, I was just about to talk about the friendly tone of the book, because your personality is so bubbly and approachable. The look of the pages, and the artwork - it all looks like you. How did you communicate so well with your illustrator?
AC: Well, I am so lucky that the illustrator of "My Brother's Sister" is also my best friend. Amy's ability to capture my vision and put it on paper is just...a gift. We've been friends for 13 years, and eek, you know, that makes me feel old! Anyway, Amy has seen my passion for this project, and for my work with the disability community first-hand. I thought it was important that the book look and sound like me, and I knew she could do that.
BBE: It certainly seems like she can! I'm sure the tone will continue into your series.
AC: Yes! I want my books to feel like a special present that I picked out, and wrapped in pretty paper, just for the sibling reader.
BBE: Because someone's looking out for them.
AC: Right. The book tells an important story, but my hope is that it's a favorite bedtime read, during snuggle time with Mom or Dad. I've found in the writing, editing and publishing process that the book has been enjoyed by readers of all ages. Moms and Dads of these special kids have also used the book to spark conversation with the friends and family too.
BBE: So what's next for you?
AC: Amy is in the process of illustrating our next book. Book Two will focus on Down Syndrome, and a relationship between sisters. I've worked closely with the Down syndrome community, and I am so thrilled to be able to share these experiences with bright, accessible pictures and rhyme. The book will fit that similar style and layout, but of course it will tell a new story, a different child's story. I'm hoping that the Super Siblingz Series will continue to grow and encompass additional disabilities and family dynamics.
To buy a copy of "My Brother's Sister," find it on Amazon. To read more about children with special needs and the resources available to them, check out Ashley Coates' place of work, the Federation for Children with Special Needs. For more on Boston-area authors and the Greater Boston literary scene, follow Emily on @genghis_blonde or subscribe to her articles here on Examiner.com!