This 9-year-old didn't see herself in any books, so her family wrote their own
Book inspired by Julia Khaled, who has cerebral palsy, raises awareness about children with special needs
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, 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."
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."
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