Recently I have had awesome experiences with my students and my book characters. After reading “Meet the A-Team” with one of my 4th graders, he asked if he was one of the book characters, Max. I asked if he liked that idea. He responded with a resounding, “Yes!” I let him know that he helped inspire Max’s character. He got super excited. He said that he liked legos like Max, wasn’t very flexible, and that he used to talk too much about his favorite interests. In fact, my student had created a character called Talkzilla, who got into people’s brains and made them talk only about their own interests! He asked if I could put a picture of him in my next book and say “Inspired by the real ‘Max.'” I laughed and let him know that I would think about it.
A few days later, another student told me that she was a mix of Bella, Lily, and Max. I asked her why. She said because she worries all the time, that she always talks back to her parents (not her teachers) and has a hard time with change and being flexible. I was so impressed with her self-awareness!
A few weeks ago, one of my families took the “Meet the A-Team” book home and read it to their son, to explain to him that he has autism. He came back to school the next day and the first thing he asked me was if he could be a new character in my book. He said, “Ms. Courtney, I have autism, just like Jack, Bella, Max, Lily, and Alex!” I told him he could create his character, and maybe, we could add him to a book sometime. He was so excited!
Today one of my students went behind my desk to look at a poster that I have of the A-Team. He read it diligently. Then he turned to me and said, “Ms. Courtney, I am just like Jack!” I asked him why. He told me that he loves outer space and that he really gets silly in class, which sometimes annoys his friends. I let him know that Jack’s next book was about giving up and learning to persevere. He exclaimed, “that’s what I used to do, too! But I know how not to give up now.” He said he wanted to help me write my next book (but of course, only if he gets an author credit).
These experiences have only reinforced to me how important it is that kids have someone in literature that they can relate to, and someone that can demonstrate success in social skills. These books have helped my students see that their initial challenges in social skills can be overcome with some learned strategies and a top-secret mission. They are all so proud of themselves, and I can’t wait to continue writing this series with their help. So, don’t be surprised one day if you see a new character obsessed with Pokemon, or one with an encyclopedic knowledge for car washes show up at an A-Team meeting one day.
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