In celebration of Multicultural Children’s Book Day, I caught up with children’s author Christel Land to interview her about her children’s hero stories on autism as a ‘difference’ not a disability. The Superhero Brain and The Superhero Heart are Christel’s debut books and although writing has always been a creative outlet for her, she didn’t think she would ever be a published writer. All that changed when it was time to tell her son he was on the autism spectrum. She wrote stories to explain it to him and his brother.
Since their release in 2017, her books have consistently been Amazon’s best-selling children’s books on autism in Europe. The books are also gaining traction in the US. Christel is working on her next book, which is about giving autistic kids a helping hand in stepping out of their comfort zone; daring to do things that might feel a bit different or scary at first.
Tell us about The Superhero Brain and The Superhero Heart.
The Superhero Brain is a book that explains autism to kids in a fun and straight forward way, but with an emphasis on finding the child’s strength and to never give up on dreams coming true.
The Superhero Heart is a book for siblings, family and friends that explains autism from their perspective. By adding a little bit of magic in to the mix, it also gives the child some coping mechanisms for the trickier moments and the difficult days.
What inspired you to write them?
When my son was diagnosed with complex autism at age 5, I started looking for resources to help me explain the diagnosis to him. I realized there aren’t many children’s books about autism and the ones I could find were missing what for me was the most crucial message. I wanted my son to understand that autism is a difference, not a disability, and I wanted him to feel like this wasn’t going to stop him from achieving his goals and dreams in life.
Because knowing what our strengths are and how we can use them, is how we can make the most of life. That’s true whether you have autism or not.
And then, my thoughts went to Superman. I loved watching the Superman films when I was a kid, and suddenly I remembered how Superman can hear people screaming for help when no one else can. My thoughts wandered on to other superhero characters and I quickly realized that most of them have sensory issues! And that is how the story of The Superhero Brain was born.
My younger son doesn’t have autism and seeing my kids grow up next to each other, there is no doubt that living with an autistic brother has given him some serious superpowers too. So, I wrote him a story called The Superhero Heart.
Who’s your illustrator and why was she perfect for capturing the spirit of your books?
My illustrator is Shanaka Thisara, and we connected with each other online. I was in contact with several illustrators, and I just really felt like she ‘got’ the stories and what I was trying to achieve with them. Her illustrations have really brought the stories to life, and she has since written her own children’s book too called May We Come In? A Beaver Story.
Who is the ideal reader and how do you see the books being used?
The books are written for children, between the ages of roughly 3 and 12. But after my books were published, I have received feedback from readers all over the world, telling me how they have made a difference in classrooms and even for adults. So, it seems my stories have a wide appeal.
What’s the message you want your readers to take away after reading the books?
I want kids to understand autism as a difference, not a disability and I want them to know that the key to making their dreams come true is to find their strengths and make the most of them. If I can inspire just one child to chase their dream, even though the odds may be stacked against them, then my stories will have served their purpose.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your books?
A few month ago, my books were published featuring several different superhero characters. The original versions featured a boy character in both books, and I got feedback from readers that they were really missing books for girls, and books for kids with darker skin. Since my stories are gender neutral, I asked my illustrator to make different sets of illustrations, so that the same stories can be told with a number of different, relatable characters.
Both of my books have a boy and a girl version, and both of them are available as a lighter skinned superhero and a darker skinned superhero character. I hope that making the stories more relatable this way means that even more kids can be inspired by them.
Do you have any moving fan feedback you’d like to share?
I have received some really moving feedback from readers all over the world. One college student in Canada wrote to me and explained that his brother has autism and that he wished that my books existed when he was a kid, because he thought it would have really made a difference to how he related to his brother.
I also got a message from a mother in the United Kingdom, telling me that after she had read my books to her children, they related to each other in a completely new and much more constructive way. They had a ‘framework’ from which to understand their differences.
Hearing feedback like that always gets me emotional, and it’s such an amazing feeling knowing that there are thousands of kids out there being touched by the stories that I wrote to help my own kids.
If our readers leave with only one message after reading this interview, what would you like it to be?
That there is so much we can do to build confidence in kids with autism, and a fundamental part of that is how we speak to them about what autism is and the beliefs we instill in them about what is possible for them to achieve in life.
Discover more and find the books:
- The Superhero Brain and The Superhero Heart on Amazon
- Christel’s Facebook Page
- YouTube video about the story behind the books
Read other books we’ve reviewed and covered for Multicultural Children’s Book Day:
- #ReadYourWorld – A Story about Autism and Friendship
- #ReadYourWorld – ABC’s of Adventurous Living and Learning!
- Children’s Books That Honor and Celebrate Diversity
- The Amazing Train
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.