Now or Never

This 9-year-old didn't see herself in any books, so her family wrote their own

9-year-old Julia Khaled couldn't find any kids books about wheelchair users like herself. So her family wrote their own - and now she looks for it at the library every time she's there.

Book inspired by Julia Khaled, who has cerebral palsy, raises awareness about children with special needs

After Julia Khaled arrived in Canada in 2015 with twin brother Jalal and mother Mirna, she couldn't find any children's books with characters that looked like her -so her family wrote their own. ( Andrew Friesen/CBC)

Every time Julia Khaled arrives at the library, she knows where her first stop will be. 

She heads straight for the spot where the book based on her life is shelved.

If the nine-year-old can't find it on the shelf — that's even better. 

"If it's not there, then people took it," Julia said. "I want people to take it, because I want people to know about cerebral palsy and that it's okay to be in a wheelchair. That's why we wrote this book."

Julia Khaled is thrilled that people can now borrow a book inspired by her from the library. (Mirna Khaled/Facebook)

Julia, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, wasn't always able to find picture books with characters that looked like her.

After the family arrived in Canada in 2015, Julia began attending school alongside her twin brother Jalal. That was already a big change from the situation she had faced back in Lebanon, where schools wouldn't accept her because of her wheelchair.

In Lebanon, Julia's mother Mirna Khaled worked as an assistant principal, and Jalal attended school. Every morning, they had to leave Julia behind, "in the house with my mom, crying and feeling so bad because she's not going to school with other kids," said Mirna

"That was really hard on me, on her, and on us as a family."

Mirna Khaled hopes Julia and Bella will encourage people to be more accepting of children with special needs.

But even after Julia had started school in Canada, she still didn't see herself in the books she was able to find at the library.

"It's really hard to see that our kids are not represented," said Mirna. "We are part of the community, right?" 

Mirna said it's important that children with special needs are represented in art and media. So she and her sister wrote and illustrated a children's book inspired by Julia, titled Julia and Bella.

The book tells the story of two friends, one of whom, Julia, is in a wheelchair. After a bully takes Julia's headband, Bella helps her get a new one. Mirna hopes the book will encourage people to be more accepting of people with special needs.

"This is what the book says, that each person is beautiful in their way."

Julia Khaled hopes the book will help people better understand children with special needs. "I want people to know about cerebral palsy and that it’s okay to be in a wheelchair." ( Andrew Friesen/CBC)

Sharing the book through the library

Julia said being able to see herself represented in a book has been a special experience. "My heart shines up when I see myself," she said.

Julia and Bella is now available at libraries across Calgary, including the city's new central library. "It's amazing to have my book in the library," said Julia. 

Even after having helped put out a book, Julia's not done. Julia and her brother Jalal "have lots of new ideas," said Mirna.

To find out what Julia's next project might be, readers will just have to keep their eyes on the library shelves.

Originally aired in April 2019