Artist Perspective by Sian Bowman, Celebrating Neurodiversity

A new Artist Perspective, written by Sian Bowman, celebrating Neurodiversity in books and theatre…

'DEXTER! The Amazing School Dog!' was written by Lucy Plunkett and published by Owlet Press. This book introduces readers to neurodiversity, through the lovable school dog, Dexter. Scenarios like the first day of term, outdoor learning, and the school play can affect children in different ways, but Dexter has a way of naturally helping all the children he meets, making them feel calm and happy.

Lucy’s passion for promoting diverse characters and meaningful connections is evident on every page; but the heart of the story lies in Dexter, a lovable character based on Lucy’s own dog, Pippa.

It was a pleasure to work with Sam at Owlet Press and Lucy on such an important story. I loved depicting the different scenarios, settings, and the changes of season. I tried to show Dexter's empathy and loveable nature with each mark. I thought a lot about how each character might show how they feel. I was fortunate enough to be able to observe and sketch the children in my kid's school. Seeing how the children interacted with each other was wonderful. I am so grateful to have Illustrated such a compassionate and inclusive story. It feels extra special that it has a connection to my own children’s primary school.

On the day of the book launch, I went into school to do a draw along assembly and we created a party scene together for Dexter's book birthday. Mrs. Bloore read the story to the whole school whilst I clicked to the next page on the projector. The children were so immersed and reacted with such enthusiasm to Mrs. Bloore's questions throughout the read along. There was a magical moment in which everyone joined in with the silent clap that is mentioned in the book. As a grown up I had never experienced a silent clap before and could only imagine what it would be like. To stand there and see 150 beaming faces all clapping without making a sound was incredibly powerful. I have enjoyed talking to many children since about their favourite character in the story and so many of them have told me they think a character is based on them.

I have experience working on more picture books with inclusivity and neurodiversity at heart as well. The author Becca Yure consults with TDF as their Lead Autism Specialist to enable children with special needs and their families to attend Broadway shows. TDF makes theatre accessible to all. Their mission statement is to "sustain live theatre and dance by engaging and cultivating a broad and diverse audience and eliminating barriers to attendance".

The series of books that Becca Yure has written are focused on the central character Little B, a girl who finds her voice. The stories are a celebration of children's imagination and the way in which music and theatre can help children to grow confidence. I look forward to sharing more about the stories when they are published.

During lockdown, Becca Yure partnered with TDF to present two shows ‘Little B's Big Idea’ in March 2021 and ‘Little B and Santa Zoom for the holidays’ in December 2020. I was fortunate enough to work on the promotional artwork for the shows and the background artwork for the green-screen. The puppets were based on the characters I had developed for the books.

It was such a proud moment to watch the shows with my own children. They were still really small; 4 and 6. All of a sudden, ‘Little B’ who they had watched me paint, came to life as a puppet on the screen. It was an incredibly immersive event and wonderful to see how many people tuned in with their cameras on, coming together virtually to enjoy the performance and to celebrate the theatre and the work of Becca Yure and TDF. You can watch one below: 

- Sian Bowman

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