Quirky Quentin is a unique kind of children’s book. Released in August 2018 by Adelaide author Indianna Bell and illustrated by New Zealander Aleksandra Szmidt, Quirky Quentin is based on the character of Quentin, who is on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The story is told from his sister’s perspective and is her take on Quentin’s daily life.
“I wanted to write a book that would help young kids,” Bell said, “especially those with classmates or siblings on the spectrum to better understand [Autism] spectrum and ultimately embrace everyone’s differences.”
Bell was inspired to write Quirky Quentin after helping out at a special needs school as part of a week-long year 11 service program. It was there that she met an ASD boy. She didn’t want to say goodbye and instead went on to do some in-house care work with the family. She has been working with the family ever since.
One of the common traits of people with Autism are their unique quirks. When describing Quentin’s quirks, Bell said: “Quentin has an affinity for collecting red baseball caps. He has a huge collection hanging on his wall, just where they should be. He also loves to watch cars and trucks driving by his house- he would stand there and watch them all day if his mum let him.” As much as Quentin loves traffic, he also forgets to look when he crosses the road. He also hates the texture of mashed potato but loves the texture of carpet.
The main aim for Quirky Quentin is to educate children about ASD. Bell wishes for children to identify that those like Quentin have the same desires for friendship and acceptance as those who don’t have ASD. “The more that kids hear about ASD the more normalised autism will become in their world,” she said. “Once a child understands this, it’s not so difficult for them to find a connection between themselves and someone with ASD.”
Quentin’s level on the spectrum is left ambiguous in the book. “I didn’t want to exclude any part of the spectrum by defining Quentin’s Autism to one extreme or another,” Bell said. “In this way Quentin is a kind of blend of everyone I’ve ever met on the spectrum – I hope that he embodies a lot of different and relatable qualities.”Littl
Writing a character who is different can be challenging for any author. As for Bell, she admits it was quite difficult to write the character of Quentin. As people’s experiences with ASD are different, she wanted to go with a balancing act: between something that’s personal and something diverse. She decided to base Quentin primarily on the people she’s worked with and what she’s experienced from working with them. She was also lucky to have parents of children with ASD read the book and say they saw their child in Quentin.
Bell says she’s never met illustrator Aleksandra Szmidt in person. Bell was connected to Aleksandra through her publisher, Little Steps Publishing, when they showed her a list of illustrators. “One day soon I’d love to go visit her in New Zealand,” she says, “and give her a massive hug to say thank you for all the brilliant work that she did.” She also recommends Szmidt to anyone who is looking for an illustrator.
Depicting ASD in art and pop culture has always been a challenge due to its complexity. Since her mind has become attuned to ASD, Bell’s views have become more critical and personal. One thing she has noticed is that people with ASD in movies are often portrayed as a genius with a photographic memory or amazing music skills. “Whilst any kind of representation is great,” she said, “I don’t think it is really giving people the full picture of what Autism can be.”
Quirky Quentin’s recommended reading age is 3-6 and the book can be purchased by following this link: https://www.indiannabellbooks.com/product-page/quirky-quentin
Words by Cameron Lowe.
Cameron Lowe is a horror and sci-fi writer, editor and student. He’s had fiction and articles featured in Speakeasy Zine and Empire Times. He loves to read, play video games, and drink green tea. He’s one of the 2018 editors at Empire Times. He tweets at @cloweshadowking.