Dinosaur Diego knows everything about dinosaurs, and Eager Eddy is blessed with never-ending energy. Daydreaming Dakota - you guessed it - has the biggest imagination going. These fictional characters may sound like your typical children's book heroes, but to local authors Jill and Kathy Bobula they're superstars with an important message to deliver.
Since 2007, the dynamic duo has published three books celebrating children with anxiety-related and neurological disorders and has plans to release five more. Each book centres on a gifted child, who takes the reader on an endearing journey about what makes them special.
The sisters know all too well what it's like to live with these disorders and how to make the best of sometimes difficult circumstances. "Welcome to my situation," says Jill. "My son has Tourette's. More than just a tic, he's affected by anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity." For seven long years the Nepean resident had no idea what was causing outbursts of anger and aggression in her son, Spencer. "We saw everyone from psychologists, neurologists, biochemists, pharmacists and nutritionists. Out of all the professionals we'd seen, not one had put their finger on it," she explains, adding that in the end it was her sister Kathy who saw a TV show on Tourette's and recognized the symptoms. Today Spencer is a happy, healthy child. "He considers his Tourette's a gift," says Jill. "Having accomplished that, Kathy and I spent a considerable amount of time talking about how we could help other families." The answer for the pair was to create storybooks that break down stereotypes and eliminate isolation. "Children with these syndromes feel alone," says Kathy. "We thought that by starting with books, they'd know they're not alone and they can understand (their conditions). But more importantly, so their classmates can understand because ignorance breeds." The colourful books, illustrated by Ottawa artist Rob Hall, are written from a child's perspective, so children can relate to the main character. Parents and teachers also learn from their fictional counterparts how to focus gifted children and bring out their strengths. "There's no other series like this in the market; that's one of the reasons we did it," Jill says. "We're trying to bring all pieces together so people understand how to work with these conditions and help their child achieve based on their gifts." They use the term "gifted," she explains, because children with anxiety-related and neurological disorders often teach wise and enlightening lessons. One in five children are "gifted" in today's society, she adds, making these books all the more important. "We wanted this to attract children, to not be just another book, but for them to pick it up and say ‘Wow, Mom and Dad - this is me!'" Kathy explains. "With Eager Eddy, we've had many girls say ‘This is me,' so they're not relating to gender, they're relating to storyline."
In addition to educating people with the books, Jill and Kathy are accredited speakers for the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada. They've presented at schools, hospitals and aboriginal reserves. Kathy is also a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder consultant, and Jill, who has a degree in psychology, is a regular columnist for publications about parenting. "We're trying to reach out as far as possible at home, school, and in the community," Jill says. "I feel it's my purpose in life to help other people through the books, lectures and speaking engagements. A lot of thought and love has gone into these books because they mean so much to us . . . and if these books change one life, we're happy." Written by Tina Barton