As many of my neurodiverse friends know, April is AUTISM AWARENESS MONTH.
Being neurodiverse myself, and being a librarian, of course, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by… I just had to come up with a list of wonderful books for the occasion. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I decided to branch out on all spectrums of neurodiversity.
So, without further ado, here are over 100 book recommendations, ranging from children's picture books and middle-grade stories, teen and young adult fiction and adult reads!
February is here! And with it… another FEATURE INTERVIEW! Today, I’m especially excited to introduce you to our guest, Alycia Neighbours.
I have the pleasure of working with Alycia in the library. She is a fantastically talented artist with a very funny (and sometimes unfiltered) sense of humor- which cracks us all up. Of course, most of us gals in the library think we’re hilarious and spend a lot of our time laughing at what some might think is nonsense. But I’m losing focus. *My ADHD apologies.* Speaking of which… something that Alycia and I share is that both of us are on the neurodiverse spectrum. Which is pretty cool.
I have a feeling putting us together for this interview is going to lead to a lot of wandering around on different topics. We’ll see if we get through it. If nothing else… I can guarantee it will be interesting.
So, let’s do this.
*Rolling up sleeves.*
Are you ready, Alycia? And 100 points to Gryffindor if you say, “I was born ready.”
*Cracks knuckles, smirks, and her eyes have a puckish glint* “I was born ready, but I’m unsure if you are.”
Ready or not, here we go!
My bio about Alycia:
Alycia is a very cool librarian with many creative talents and passions. She works with wildlife rescue (we actually have a very funny story about a tortoise she almost stole thinking it was mine. Maybe we’ll tell you about it later…) She’s an artist and now working on illustrations for an upcoming picture book (YAY!) She is neurodiverse (I’ll let her expand on that if she’d like), big-hearted, big-humored, big-mouthed- (Am I allowed to say that, Alycia? I know you would. Just kidding. Kind of.) one-of-a-kind individual with her own unique brand of personality. She is also a mom and stepmom to a pretty gigantic brood of kids. I can’t remember how many there are… What was it, like 50? I know it was a Cheaper By The Dozen Situation at best. Tell me again, how many munchkins you have in total? And all jokes aside, she’s a pretty terrific and down-to-earth human being, who I’m deeply grateful to know.
Alycia’s bio about Alycia:
I am a 46-year-old wife and mother of 8 with 2 granddaughters. A lot of the time, it does feel like there are 50+ kids I am somehow responsible for. Most of the time, it IS extra kids that have come over to play with our menagerie of animals. If it can be a house pet, I guarantee I probably have two of them. If it’s not one of my pets, it’s probably wildlife that I am working on rehabbing; nobody blinks an eye around here about squirrels in a closet, a hawk on the screened porch, a possum in the bed, or watching me set a broken leg on a mouse on the kitchen counter. I am autistic and have a Conure as a service animal. Cricket, the conure, is a small parrot with a growing vocabulary. He has the ability (as all birds do) to sense small, subtle magnetic changes around him. This includes the beating of my heart speeding up. His job is to identify those moments before I do, and then he leans into my neck. His warm body pressing on me alerts me that I need to pay attention to what my body is telling me and use my tools to combat my instincts. When I am not filling dinner plates of food bowls, I am either working at the library, homeschooling 4 teenagers, or creating. Artwise I am a painter, crocheter, knitter, pyrographer, calligrapher, tattoo designer, logo designer, sculptor, and jewelry maker. My other interests are mounted archery, kayaking, working with mustangs or abused horses, hiking, and anything else that can get me into nature.
So, today’s interview (as you can probably already tell) is going to be formatted a little bit differently for a few reasons.
1.It’s Alycia and me- and together, we’re trouble.
2.This will be my first sit-down interview with an artist only! We did have one interview back in December that featured a father and son-author/illustrator team, but this time, we are going to be focusing on art and illustration. And Alycia’s illustration journey is going to be a little bit different because, as I understand it, Alycia is going through a traditional route and was hired by a publishing house. Is that right?
I believe the chain of events that occurred whilst I was peacefully sleeping is that an author actually stumbled into my art via a social media site while she was perusing artwork pertaining to her character. She introduced it to the Powers That Be of Publishing and then began courting me with promises of face-to-face meetings at her hobby farm. How could I possibly refuse a chance to sit down amongst roaming goats, turkeys, floofy dogs, and kitties in need of “scritches.”
I know that in publishing, there is some red tape on things, and it’s important to stay hush-hush until a certain date. So, with that in mind, instead of me asking you direct questions, maybe instead, you could tell us what you’re able to about the publishing experience and project so far.
I can tell you that the publishing house that is working with us is a fantastical beast of making sure everything is absolutely perfect, from making sure the prose is formatted the best for our demographic, the margins are clearer than a guppie’s mind, the artwork being chosen is to not only reflect the passion of the words but to engage all levels of readers. It’s a slower process than Chelsea’s pretend tortoise imitating an arthritic sloth. The author I am working with has a background in teaching and preparing kids not just academically for the world but emotionally. She is in the middle of two books, one I am illustrating in my style because of the subject matter and the other about a whimsical butterfly done by a brilliant watercolorist. It was important to her to choose artists that not only could tackle bringing her words to life but who were passionate about their subjects.
Her deciding factor in choosing me was her book focuses around a crow that has grown up believing his identity was defined by those around him, which was a loving, but aloof family of chickens. He has to embrace who he truly is if he is going to be able to make a difference. When the author found me on social media, not only was she interested in my artwork, but I was also working with an orphaned crow affectionately named Chikyn. I was documenting his life of learning how to be a crow by introducing him as he was maturing to wild crows that nest in the woods behind my home. She knew then that I was the perfect candidate for illustrating this book.
So, now that we’ve talked about your traditional experience let’s talk about your inspiration for art. Have you always identified as an artist? How old were you?
I have always been creative, and at 46 years old, I sometimes feel as though I am just beginning. I work in all sorts of mediums and am usually taking online courses and working with other artists to further my different crafts. As mentioned, I am on the spectrum and am Autistic. One of my superpowers is the ability to hyperfocus on small details that make up the whole. I can get lost for hours creating each blade on a feather, the wrinkle on a flower petal, or the texture of the skin on an elephant. Most of my art focuses on these details, and by working in black and white, I encourage the viewer to ignore the colors that fascinate us at first glance and look closer at the beauty of the structure.
What does being an artist mean to you? And what is your connection to your art?
Being an artist means slowing down to appreciate the complex within the simplicity at first glance. It is taking a millisecond of time and preserving it in a way that invites the viewer to stop for a while and take notice of the chaotic perfection of form and structure.
My connection to art is that is my way of being. I think, hear and process the world around me in pictures. To be able to pull those images from my mind and put them onto canvas is a way of communication for me. It is my window to my soul.
What made you want to pursue illustration?
Pursuing this particular avenue of art allows me to use my connections to my work to help the author give “flesh” to their message. Children especially learn images long before they learn language. When reading an illustrated book on their own or if an adult is reading to them, they take what they have already learned through images and assign language. I feel this gives kids a sense of security to learn language and emotion/intention with a base of knowledge that feels familiar and comfortable.
Outside of this newest publishing venture, have you previously done any sort of commissioned artwork? If so, can you tell us a little bit about that process and maybe about the projects you worked on?
I’ve been doing commissions for the better part of the past decade. I tend to gravitate toward projects that have deep emotional meaning to the recipient. Whether a portrait of their beloved family member, a wood-burned recipe on a cutting board that has been passed down from the grandparents, a sculpture of their favorite pet, a watercolor of their home, a crocheted blanket for their newborn child, or a rendering of their favorite animal; if they are passionate then so am I.
I know what a talented artist you are. I’ve seen your work up close! And I’ve had the privilege of watching you teach a painting class for beginner artists as well, inside the library. Do you have any samples of your work that you’d be willing to share with us today?
Note: so, Alycia gave me free reign to choose images from her Instagram, and of course, my favorite animals are foxes and bats, so I have included them both!
Alycia, your attention to detail blows my mind. I know you usually work with black and white, but I chose one image to share as well with a pop of color. It really is stunning! But, I could talk all day about how much I love your work, and as much fun as that would be… I might lose some readers. So, back to what we were previously talking about: the library…
Recently, you hosted your first program in the library! Back in December of 2022, you hosted a winter painting party. How did it feel to host your first program? Were you super siked to lead an art-based event? Or were you nervous? Or were you a little of both? (Although, I can’t really picture you being nervous. And you handled the class so smoothly, it seemed like second nature.)
I was very excited to bring painting to the library. The main reason I began working in the library is my intense desire to serve people. Not just to serve them but for each person, I come in contact with to feel seen, feel important, and feel connected. Painting and learning painting is not something easily or cheaply done, so many people don’t ever take a chance on themselves becoming artists. The library offering this service for free allowed people of all backgrounds to be risky. I know how hard it is to take a risk and create something that feels so personal, so by teaching the class, I was able to walk right alongside them each step of the way, instructing, encouraging, and celebrating each unique canvas.
I was a little nervous, but that was due to my being in a new situation and a transition from my normal routine at the library; spectrum by-product. However, teaching painting classes is not new for me. I’ve taught personal lessons one-on-one, small groups during parties, and large groups of 100s of children at one time. I’ve learned the reward of seeing all the risk-takers with their paintbrushes is far more powerful than my moments of discomfort.
So, if someone wanted an Alycia original, is that something they could get? Can people approach you with projects they’d like you to create for them? And if so, how?
Absolutely! I am always available for new projects and ventures. Sometimes there are busy seasons, so there may be a wait for your finished project, but I always connect through each stage of the work progress to show the recipient where I am with things an.d if we need to tweak along the way. They can always approach me in person or through email email@example.com, social media sites, or by phone (six one five- four two zero- zero two four four.)
Okay, now for some fun GET-TO-KNOW-YOU-BETTER questions:
Alycia, if you could be any mythical creature, what would you be?
I would want to be a fairy the size of Tinkerbell (which, by the way, is one of my favorite characters) By being so small, I could sit in a flower all day to appreciate each splendid petal or perhaps ride on the wings of bird and see the world through their eyes, or maybe I’ll curl up under a toadstool, pull up my blanket of moss, listen to the cricket orchestra play a Sonata while I nap under a sunbeam.
If you could have any superpower (other than the many you already possess), what would you choose?
Flying. Definitely flying. I am a bird fanatic (autism focus - I can talk about birds for hours and hours) and also have a degree in bird biology.
If you could travel to any point in history, what and where would it be?
I’m going to have to go with the Jurassic Era here. Yes, I am probably going to get smashed at some point, but this girl is going to ride a Triceratops if that is the last thing I do.
If you turned into an animal tomorrow, based on your personality, what do you think it would be and why?
As much as I want to say a bird, I would one hundred percent probably be a cicada. I stay under wraps and avoid all contact until I am forced to come out. Then I begin to scream.
Now for some riddles… no cheating!
Where do sick boats go?
Well, if they had taken their Vitamin Sea, they wouldn’t have to go to the dock.
Tou·ché. However, the answer we were looking for is “the dock-tor.”
Name an expensive fish.
The one that clogs up your toilet and creates hefty plumbing bills.
*Chelsea laughing* Goldfish.
How do you spell COW in thirteen letters?
*Sips coffee, tries to look wise* SEE O DOUBLE YOU.
Alright. Here’s our last one.
If 2 is company and 3 is a crowd, what are 4 and 5?
*Continues sipping coffee*9.
Thank you, Alycia, for letting me pick your brain! It’s been a treat. *Chelsea as a zombie “brains! Delicious.”* And now… does anybody know what time it is?
I’ll give you a hint. It starts with the letter G…
As great as all those things are… it is none of the above. It’s…
Alycia is generously offering a custom artwork giveaway. Think of your favorite animal *fiction or nonfiction* and leave it in the comments below. One lucky winner will be chosen at random to receive a custom piece of art featuring the animal you chose. The commenting window for the prize will last one week from the post date of this FEATURE INTERVIEW. The deadline will be Wednesday, February 8th, 2023, so make sure to get your answers in as soon as possible! Please also make sure to include your NAME and EMAIL ADDRESS in your comment so that we can easily contact our prize winner.
To connect with Alycia or to see some of her amazing artwork, visit her social media, shown below.
Before you go…
If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to like this post and subscribe to Chelsea’s World of Books BLOG for more fabulous #kidlit happenings. You can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Thanks for reading!
Join us next month for our FEATURE INTERVIEW with Kidlit Author Janet Sumner Johnson.