*Season #SIX (Summer 2019)
Authors’ note: Peyton Goddard is an autistic writer who communicates by typing on a keyboard with support. Like some other autistic “typers,” she has a nonstandard, poetic style to her writing, using words inventively and expressing emotions through powerful metaphors.
How did you come to know Charity?
Carol: Our hero Charity was inspired by the life of my co-author Peyton Goddard. Like Peyton, Charity is autistic and needs support to do many things. She’s also funny, clever, and sensitive. Yet Charity is not Peyton. She is her own self, and it took us time to get to know her. Like a Polaroid picture, she started out fuzzy and came into focus with time. Characters speak to us as we write. As authors, we listen and ask them questions. From the start, we knew that Charity was eager to learn. Unfortunately, she had to convince the rest of the world she deserved that opportunity.
Peyton: Pertinently I am like Charity. I’m the no one. Each dawn the world declares I’m puny and cuts off opportunities. I’m poisoned poignantly by pity. Pesty, I’m lunged in popping explosions. Trepid, I’m outing my pity pout. Being no one hellishly hurts.
What do you think is her most admirable quality?
Peyton: Most admirable is her pertinent pop. Her kettle explosion opportunes persons to hear her pain. Her moping cry to join in perturbs but is the only way she can communicate. In typing, she finally speaks, and mists of pity begin to dissipate. It is holy joy.
Carol: My co-author Peyton is one of the most inspiring people I know. She started life with no dependable voice and an unpredictable body. Despite her loving parents’ best efforts, Peyton was segregated, isolated, and suffered abuse from those trusted to care for her. It was only at age 22 that she was introduced to a communication technique called supported typing. In her very first session, she typed, “I am intelligent.” Her parents were overwhelmed with joy. Peyton describes that moment as her rebirth. Armed with a means of communication, she went on to graduate valedictorian from college.
Overcoming these challenges is astounding. But Peyton’s most admirable quality is her power to open her heart with empathy toward all and forgiveness to those who hurt her. We named our character Charity to reflect this trait. Most people hear the word charity and think pity—we are charitable to those who have less and perhaps even perceive them as less. But the word charity originally meant open-hearted love for all humanity. Our character Charity is able to maintain that open, forgiving heart in spite of everything she has endured. That is nothing short of miraculous.
Is there anything you wish Charity would have changed or done differently in her story?
Carol: Gosh, that's hard to say. We wish that Charity did not suffer in the beginning of the book. But the suffering comes from Peyton’s truth, and it is the reality of many people who are labeled as “less than.” At the start of the book, Charity is not seen as a real person. She has been pushed out of view, segregated in special classes and a special school that is not special at all. She’s not given opportunities to be included in clubs, sports, and social events. She’s lonely and desperate for friends. This part of the book is heartbreaking, and writing these chapters brought us many tears. With no voice, Charity had no way to convince people that she deserved to be included. The real point of the story is that she deserved to be included all along.
Peyton: I point to no. Charity never fails to persevere, each time upping her trying by summoning her purpose.
What do you think she can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what she went through?
Peyton: All kids, all people, look upset if told they are no one, don’t belong, are pertinent-not. Charity offers assurance that each human is valuable and worthy of respect.
Carol: On our virtual book tour this past year, Peyton and I had the honor of interacting with kids from all over the country. Some of the most memorable interactions have been with classes of special needs children who read our book. REAL is one of the first middle-grade novels to feature a nonspeaking protagonist. Other nonspeaking kids very much relate to Charity’s struggles. This book allows them to finally feel seen and heard.
One dear girl who, like our character, types to talk wrote: “HAVING SOMEONE WHO HAS LIVED WITHOUT SPEECH LETS ME KNOW I AM NOT ALONE AND THERE IS LIGHT IN UNEXPECTED PLACES.” She also told us how hopeful the book made her feel: “LISTENING TO AUTISTIC VOICES WILL OPEN DOORS TO A WORLD WHERE WE ARE NOT ONLY ACCEPTED BUT VALUED AND APPRECIATED.” Reading her beautiful words, Peyton and I knew that all the hard work was worthwhile.
How did you research Charity and the circumstances she found herself in?
Carol: Because Charity’s journey is inspired by Peyton’s experiences, we based many of her traits and perceptions on Peyton. Peyton describes autism as having a differently wired brain, and one of our goals was to help readers understand what that feels like. To see the world through new eyes is the great gift of fiction. Insight into someone else’s world helps us build empathy and understanding. I was grateful to have Peyton as the subject-matter expert to guide the descriptions of Charity’s thoughts, emotions, senses, and movements so we could help readers understand autism from the inside out.
Do you and she share any similarities?
Peyton: News is I’m mostly her…. but I wear pink and greet oatmeal as great.
Carol: Of course Peyton shares similarities with Charity. I also feel related to Charity through her longing for connectedness. I grew up as a painfully shy child. I had the ability to speak but often lacked the courage. Like Charity, I was slow to figure out where I fit in. Once I did, that made all the difference.
What was the hardest scene to write about Charity?
Carol: Charity’s experiences at her special-needs school, Borden Academy, are based on Peyton’s real-life experiences in a similarly abusive school. Peyton described it as a waiting room for hopeless cases where nobody bothered teaching the kids because the staff (we can’t call them teachers) assumed these kids could not learn. Even more appalling, Peyton was physically abused and repeatedly locked in an isolation room when she was “uncooperative.” How to translate this torture for a middle-grade reader?
We started off with a painfully honest portrayal but eventually were encouraged to reduce the suffering in this chapter so as not to scare away readers. Even with the milder version in the book, those scenes still make me cry. So many children are suffering at the hands of people tasked with caring for them. As Peyton reminds us, the abuse is common, yet it rarely makes the news. That’s one important reason we wrote the book—to help readers understand that each person has value and must be cherished.
Peyton: For me it was the jittery scene on the pier. Trepid it is to thesis sweet rest by suicide. It is betting that jitters will finally rest. Too many kids like Charity are captured by greed to be freed of their life fetters. I’m poignantly yearn they can persevere in their climb up to precious real living as Charity does. REAL is evidence healing is possible.
Who do you think was her biggest supporter and why?
Peyton: Her priority supporter rests in creator God. Pertinently he goes each golly dawn with her. She knows him. Troubled treaders can taste rest knowing their creator is also sad when they are sad. Hungry are all kids to ferret their challenges knowing God is replying, “Know I’m in you, know you are not alone.” There their yearns begin to rest.
Carol: Charity, like Peyton, is fortunate to have two parents who are tirelessly devoted to helping her learn and be included. One of the most touching chapters describes her relationship with her dad, who always saw her as perfect just as she was. He taught her to ride a bike, took her surfing, and gave her ballet lessons in the garage on Saturday mornings. All these skills were things the experts said Charity could never do—proof of how much a child can learn with a teacher who believes in them. Having her dad as her best friend is at once heartwarming and heartbreaking. As sweet as this relationship is, Charity still feels lonely with no friends her own age.
Why do you think people make judgements about people we don’t know or understand and usually assume the worst or expect the least from them; when they have so much to offer the world?
Carol: This is a core issue of the book. We make so many assumptions about people based on how they move their body. Most people don’t understand that autism is also a movement disorder. If we see someone jumping or flapping their hands, we assume that person wants to do this. We assume they are in control of their movement, but often they are not.
People also assume that nonspeaking means non-thinking and non-feeling. That conclusion is completely illogical. Consider Stephen Hawking. In his final years, he could not communicate with his voice, but no one doubted his intelligence. The mantra for all good teachers is to presume competence—and this mantra should be embraced by all of us. Let’s assume that each person we meet has gifts, and let’s build on their strengths rather than focusing on deficiencies. Peyton urges us to treasure all people because great is each.
Peyton: Ignorance of others is the expensive cost of separating by differences. Wedded we are. Let’s loudly ring that bell. If we continue to ring out segregation, we continue to mask our own rest. Yearn I we easily build empathy by respecting all. Hesitating to seed respect for all cuts out understanding. I’m poignantly greedy to advocate bells toll to include all.
What do you think Charity is doing as the present time?
Peyton: She is coping with the wastes of segregation by advocating inclusion. She points to her own healing by teaching “treasure all because great is each.” Carol and I write to help Charity change this worrisome world.
Carol: The teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has described her own autism as a superpower. That’s what Charity finally realizes. Now she’s going to use her power to continue her mission. She’s probably writing a blog, planning a rally, and drafting an op-ed for the New York Times. Disability rights is the next wave in the ongoing battle for social justice. Charity, and those young readers inspired by her, are the perfect ones to lead the charge!
Interview #86 with Shaun David Hutchinson (Author of The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried)
SEASON #SIX (Summer 2019)
Interview #122 with Tamara Bundy (Author of Pixie Pushes On)
Interview #123 with Lindsay Lackey (Author of All the Impossible Things)
Interview #124 with Tae Keller (Author of When You Trap a Tiger)
Interview #125 with Jamie Sumner (Author of Roll With It)
Interview #126 with Hena Khan (Author of More to the Story)
Interview #127 with Phil Bildner (Author of A High-Five for Glenn Burke)
Interview #128 with Leslie Connor (Author of A Home for Goddesses and Dogs)
Interview#129 with Gillian McDunn (Author of Queen Bee and Me)
Interview #130 with Jody J. Little (Author of Worse Than Weird)
Interview #131 with Jenn Bishop (Author of Things You Can't Say)
Interview #132 with Kaela Noel (Author of Coo)
Interview #133 with Rebecca Stead (Author of The List of Things That Will Not Change)
Interview #134 with Gae Polisner (Author of Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me)
Interview #135 with Emily Blejwas (Author of Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened)
Interview #136 with Joy McCullough (Author of A Field Guide to Getting Lost)
Interview #137 with Kim Baker (Author of the Water Bears)
Interview #138 with Erin Entrada Kelly (Author of We Dream of Space)
SEASON #ELEVEN (Fall 2021)