A South Australian team of creatives is collaborating on a project including a book inspired by a real story of children’s friendship.
The Let’s Be Friends project is the brainchild of artist Jung Yoon that seeks to explore social and cultural diversity through art. The group of neurodiverse and neurotypical creatives have come together with the aim of creating a series of children’s books, the first being ‘Hello to Me’, as well as a documentary, classroom resources and a giant jenga set that children can decorate and play.
Jung was inspired by her daughter Joanne, who has hearing loss and autism, who developed a wonderful friendship with a child who has vision and mobility impairment.
The pair struck up a friendship at school, showing that companionship and acceptance can be boundless.
Hello to Me is about Joanne who is nonverbal and living with multiple disabilities including autism and hearing impairment, and her friendships with children who also live with disability.
“We all need friends. I believe that no one can fully independently live a life without friends,” Jung says. “However, for some people like Joanne, it’s not easy to make friends or even connect to people because of their differences in cultural, social and physical conditions. But if we open our hearts to getting to know them individually, we can find the very best friends. It starts by saying, ‘Hello’. We need more opportunities to learn about others and human diversity by sharing our stories, and that’s what this book is for.”
The story shows how Joanne gets along with her friends and others who are supporting and caring towards her, despite the communication and behavioural challenges.
“All the characters in the book represent real kids who live with multiple disabilities, as well as severe medical conditions. My daughter Joanne is nonverbal, humming and flapping; and neurotypical children or even adults often stare at her different behaviours. I can’t stop them staring at her, but, I appreciate if a child comes to ask me why she makes noises and isn’t talking, then I can have a chance to explain,” Jung says.
Written by award-winning children’s author Janeen Brian, edited by Penny Matthews and collaboratively illustrated by neurodiverse artist Kurt Bosecke, and character designer Jake Holmes, the project has attracted a team of leading South Australian artists who are working together to bring it to life.
“Friendships are vital to us all as social beings, and yet, without the basic understanding of these children’s need for friendship, formed in their own special way, the general public, including children, parents and educators, may react negatively, perhaps through ignorance, fear or embarrassment,” Janeen says.
Accompanying the book will be a documentary directed by Jack Turner and a study guide for teachers and schools.
Art Director Dave Court says the project is a wonderful meeting of minds between local creatives who are committed to telling a story of inclusion and diversity through art.
The team have recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for the project. Donors can nominate a school to receive the book and teaching resources as part of their reward with various other rewards on offer to contributors.