Written from the view of an older sister, The Chalk Rainbow by local author Deborah Kelly explains the reality of living with a child who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

She explains some of his traits such as not eating black food, wearing black clothes or even walking on anything black like the asphalt driveway. To cheer him up, she starts drawing a chalk rainbow which allow him to walk across the driveway. When they run out of chalk, she comes up with an ingenious idea to allow him and the rest of the family to create more “rainbows”. These rainbows allow her brother to explore more of his community as well as bring the family closer together.

With more kids being diagnosed with ASD, this book targeted at young readers provides insight into the condition of autism in a way that kids will understand. The book encourages kids to accept others’ differences and gives insight into what life is like for kids with autism.

Deborah writes in a sensitive and caring manner about the challenges and opportunities for families living with ASD.  The illustrations are equally as wonderful with local author Gwynneth Jones imbuing colour onto each page.

The Chalk Rainbow is published by EK Books. RRP $24.99.  Ages: 4 – 8. The Mummy Project received a review copy.

For more information about Deborah Kelly, read the Q&A below. Deborah was kind enough to answer some questions about herself and her books.

What inspired you to write The Chalk Rainbow?

The Chalk Rainbow was inspired by my experiences with children on the Autism spectrum and their families.

It is not a resource for children on the spectrum, but rather a mainstream picture book that will hopefully make its way into homes and schools to help families, friends, classmates and teachers better understand how differently children with autism see the world.

It is a story about difference and acceptance, unconditional love and trust, and thinking outside of the square to solve problems –universal themes that everyone can relate to. I hope that by offering a glimpse into Zane’s family’s life, The Chalk Rainbow may encourage readers to try to step into the shoes of someone who is different, and see the world from their perspective.

The book is due for release in Australia on July 1st  and will also be released in USA, Canada, UK and New Zealand.

What has been the reaction of families with kids who have ASD to The Chalk Rainbow?

I have had a wonderfully positive response from readers so far. In particular, parents of children on the spectrum have praised the honesty of the book. The Chalk Rainbow doesn’t shy away from Zane’s meltdowns or his parents’ feelings of powerlessness. It doesn’t provide a ‘happily ever after’ either, but it does leave the reader with a sense of hope- that with compassion, understanding, patience and trust, the family are able to overcome obstacles and move forward together.

Dr Lee Sturgeon, a well-known psychologist here in Lake Macquarie who specialises in children and adolescents with  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), called it ‘a very positive book that focuses on the strengths that can come from difference…that would assist families and class teachers to better understand ASD and the strengths and experiences that can come from interacting with children with ASD.’

How would you suggest that parents use The Chalk Rainbow to explain ASD to their children?

I would begin with a positive discussion about difference. There are so many ways in which we are different. We might have different coloured hair or eyes. We might have a different favourite colour or food or sport. We might be afraid of different things. What are you afraid of? I might be afraid of spiders, but you might not be…that is just another way we are different. Zane is different to other kids in many ways, including his fear of the colour black.

The book never mentions the word Autism. At its core it is a story about differences, and how by showing kindness, patience and understanding we can help others to overcome challenges-in this case Zane’s fear of the colour black.

The illustrator Gwynneth Jones is also a local. How did your collaboration come about?

Gwynne and I were already friends through the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Newcastle sub branch. I love Gwynne’s work and when I saw some illustrations she had done which were mostly black and white with a splash of colour, I thought that style would be perfect suited to my text. We have had a lot of fun working together on The Chalk Rainbow.

When can we expect a new book from you?

This year has seen the release of my new picture book Me and You (Penguin Viking) in March, Ruby Wishfingers 4: King of the Castle in June and The Chalk Rainbow on July 1st. The fifth book in the Ruby Wishfingers series will also be released towards the end of this year.

For more information about Deborah and her books, follow her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DeborahKellyChildrensAuthor or check out her website http://deborahkelly.com.au

Book Launch

Join Deborah Kelly and Gywnneth Jones for the launch of The Chalk Rainbow on Saturday 1 July at Wallsend Library at 10:30am. Food drinks and a craft activity will follow a reading of the book. Children are encouraged to come dressed in their favourite colour!

It’s free to attend but bookings are essential. http://newcastle.nsw.gov.au/Library/Whats-On/Events/Children-s-Book-Launch-The-Chalk-Rainbow-Wallse