Little did Limerick-based Avril Webster know when she created books at her kitchen table to help her disabled son Stephen cope with everyday activities, that they would lead her to a publishing contract for a series of six books. In just over a year, from those homemade versions, her first series is now published, with another six to follow in 2008.
Seeing the benefit Stephen was getting from the homemade books, Avril set about adapting them for Stephen’s classmates. With the help of illustrator David Ryley (whose close family friend Christia attends the St Vincent’s Special School, Lisnagry, with Stephen) Avril created the Going swimming book. Things took off from there. The sample spreads were shown to Sarah Miles, Managing Director of Speechmark Publishing, at the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, Italy. Sarah saw the potential for the books and contracted Avril to produce the first series of six books for publication in 2007.
With invaluable input from Avril’s two other children, Michael (6) and Rachel (4), and from other parents, teachers and speech and language therapists, the books are now published. The Off we go! books explain ‘what comes next’ on an everyday outing, such as going to the dentist, thus reassuring the child and encouraging cooperation in each situation. By reading the book together at home and preparing for a new task or event, a child can manage the stages more easily, ultimately reducing stress for themselves and those around them. The books can also be taken along to the actual event. The first series includes Going to the dentist, Going to the doctor, Going to the hairdresser, Going to the restaurant, Going to the supermarket, and Going swimming.
The Off We Go! books proved to be extremely helpful in preparing Stephen for the activities covered in these stories. Stephen loves books with pictures and the author found these an effective way of communicating with him. Stephen and his friend Christia appear in the books, as well as in the Off We Go! logo.
Each book contains colourful illustrations, with 12 pages of text, a length recommended by speech and language therapists. Multi-ethnic characters appear in all six books, so readers can ‘get to know them’. Each picture is clear and uncluttered, and a clock has been used in all the stories to represent a period of waiting or the time for an activity to finish. The simple text uses basic vocabulary which can easily be made more complex if needed, but together with the pictures will help to give structure and routine to children of different ages and abilities.
The Off We Go! series provides an invaluable resource for professionals, parents and carers of children aged 3-7 of all abilities, and particularly children with intellectual disabilities or autism. The books have also proved very helpful for children where English is a second language. Due to the success of the first six titles in the series, six more are planned for publication in 2008. Each book is a simple, clear uncluttered analysis of a task; it can be used to prepare for an upcoming event and to support the child during the event. Each book has the same look and feel, and uses the same multi-ethnic ‘family’ of characters, some of whom have a disability, which promotes familiarity and learning. The books can be used as part of a child’s Individual Education Plan to help them to experience new activities and to achieve developmental milestones.