Friday, May 17, 2024

Q&A with Mariam Shapera



Mariam Shapera is the author of the new children's picture book Jo's Special Gifts. She also has written the picture book Up Up You Go Jo!. Also a doctor, she lives in San Diego.


Q: What inspired you to write Jo’s Special Gifts?


A: My inspiration behind this book is my 7-year-old autistic son, Jo. I wrote this book three years ago at the same time as my first one. It was put on hold as my first book was being released. I continued with it a couple of years ago and completed it.


My autistic son has an amazing neurodivergent brain. He pursues his passions and interests, and I see how much joy they bring him. His enthusiasm for these interests inspired me. I am writing from his perspective.

I also wanted to raise awareness of other aspects of autism, including autistic play, gestalt cognitive processing, and sensory processing differences. These were all things I saw in my son.


My son Jo is 7 years old and still minimally speaking. He is unable to communicate to me yet how he feels about the book. However, just recently, when I obtained my author copy, he would take it and love talking about the back cover of the book. He scripts (recites) something from his iPad game whilst looking at it, and that brought me so much happiness to see.


Q: What do you think Lorna Humphreys' illustrations add to the story?


A: After I completed writing the story, it took me quite a while to find the right illustrator. I wanted joyful, bright, and whimsical illustrations. Lorna Humphreys has done just that and more! She has brought the story visually to life.


Since the story is not a typical children’s story with a plot but more of an emotional journey, it can sometimes be hard to come up with what to illustrate. She used her great imagination, and we came up with some big ideas.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from Jo's Special Gifts?


A: Whether they are autistic or not, kids can learn to embrace their special gifts. Also, amongst families with non-autistic members, this book increases autism awareness and acceptance. In schools, it can help educate students on the neurodivergent brain- that there are other ways of seeing and processing the world around us.


It also teaches different autistic traits, such as ways they communicate, autistic play, and sensory differences. It shows examples of accommodations, such as the use of a wheelchair and noise-canceling headphones. The book also helps normalize different modalities of communication by showing the AAC device.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now, I am not working on any book. I am focused on spreading the message of this book and autism advocacy, continuing to work as a family physician, and taking care of my family.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Enter for your chance to win a signed hardcover copy of Jo's Special Gifts, a signed copy of Mariam's first book, Up Up You Go Jo!, and a $25 Starbucks gift card. This post is in partnership with Mariam Shapera.

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