Following the success of The Boy Who Knew the Mountains, Michele Ziolkowski is back with her second book.
Suhail’s Abu Dhabi Adventure is once more inspired by Michele’s son Suhail, who was diagnosed with autism at an early age.
Curious to know more about her new book, we chat with the archaeologist-turned-author to find more about her latest project, her personal mission to spread more awareness about autism and an upcoming documentary…
What makes this book different from The Boy Who Knew Mountains?
Not only is the setting of the book different, but we have also moved from the mountains to the desert, and onwards to the islands of Abu Dhabi.
There are some new characters in this story, and through their interactions with Suhail, they provide the reader with more insight concerning his special abilities.
This story also reveals more about the character of Suhail and his unique strengths.
My son, Suhail, has proven to show an interest and connection with horses and camels.
Suhail currently attends horse-riding therapy at Zayed Higher Organisation at Mafraq. There is one particularly powerful scene in the book where this connection is highlighted.
What’s the inspiration behind this new book?
The sequel is reflective of Suhail’s ongoing journey and it is based solely in Abu Dhabi.
In a way, this story mirrors our son’s transition from Fujairah to Abu Dhabi and the exploration of his new environment.
Suhail has been welcomed in Abu Dhabi by his school – Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Special Needs, Operated by the New England Center for Children – and the wider community.
I wanted to express Suhail’s experiences through his character in this book.
Was it more challenging to write a follow-up – why?
In many aspects, the second story developed quite naturally as my son’s journey unfolded.
It also provided the opportunity to delve a bit deeper into the character of Suhail and to set the scene for a third and final book in the series.
What’s the main message you want to impart to the readers?
There is one particular scene in the story that highlights the issue of eye contact and autism. Some individuals on the autistic spectrum find it difficult to make eye contact with others.
I know that this was very difficult for Suhail when he was younger, and to some extent, it still is.
I think one of the main messages I wanted to get across with this second book is not to underestimate a person who appears to be quiet or someone who might face challenges with communication.
Our children have so much to offer and it is our role as parents to advocate for them and create a community that is accepting and understanding.
How long did it take you to finish this book?
The second book took around three years to complete, from starting on the draft text to the final publication.
The story is beautifully complemented by Susanna Billson’s illustrations.
How will this book help raise awareness about autism and inclusiveness?
Via book reading events at schools and within the community, I can reach out to a young audience, and raise topics such as autism awareness, inclusion and tolerance.
The Office of Social Responsibility at New York University in Abu Dhabi invited me to conduct two book-reading events this year on campus.
To create a more tolerant and inclusive world and raise awareness, it is essential to be able to open a dialogue with the youngest members in our community.
Can you tell us more about the documentary based on the book?
The documentary film [to be released in December] is about my son Suhail and will provide viewers with an insight into his world.
During interviews, we discussed our move from Fujairah to Abu Dhabi and Suhail’s education at the New England Center for Children.
Khadijah ( director ) and her crew have already filmed Suhail at school, working on his IEP (Individualised Education Program).
Suhail has also been recorded at home and with our family in Fujairah. The highlight for us was watching Suhail as he was filmed in the mountains of Fujairah.
This really captured how in tune Suhail is with the natural environment and the positive effect it has on his overall well-being.
How did you meet Khadijah and how did the idea come about?
I met Khadijah Kudsi at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair in 2018.
We were initially aware of each other’s work via social media, and were introduced by Yasmine from Early Starters [bookstore].
Khadijah and I started chatting about Suhail and his story. After meeting Khadijah, Suhail immediately warmed to her and gave her a hug.
Khadijah said to me that she would like to make a documentary about Suhail.
She expressed such passion for the idea of telling Suhail’s story and spreading more awareness for people of determination, not only in the UAE but globally.
Suhail’s Abu Dhabi Adventure is available at Early Starters bookshop, jamalon.com and Louvre Boutique from September.