South Pasadena author Margaret Finnegan’s funny and moving middle grade novel, “We Could be Heroes”(Atheneum Books; ages 8-12), features neurodiverse main characters. Packed with personalities that jump off the page and a unique, compelling plot, Finnegan’s debut has the prestigious honor of being a Junior Library Guild selection.
This intergenerational friendship story is about Hank Hudson and Maisie Huang, two kids who overcome their differences in order to help a neglected dog. (Don’t worry: The dog lives!) The choices the kids make are complicated by the fact that they are both neurodiverse, although one of them is more comfortable with that truth than the other.
Hank has autism, while Maisie and the dog — Booler — have epilepsy. What made you decide to tackle neurodiversity from these angles?
I guess it’s because neurodiversity looks like both of those things in my own family. I wrote this book for my daughters. They both have epilepsy, and one also has autism. I wanted them to see people like themselves represented on the page — people who not just have challenges, but also amazing gifts. And just so we’re clear, their gifts are as much consequences of their disabilities as their challenges. They are kind, empathetic, determined, and great advocates for people with disabilities.
Does having neurodiverse children make it easier to write with authenticity about neurodiversity?
As a writer, it did help that, as a mom, I have seen everything that autism and epilepsy can throw at us — the good, the bad and the ugly. Consequently, I was determined not to perpetuate stereotypes about the meek and vulnerable sufferer of seizures or the unfeeling, social-awkward autistic genius. In the autism community, we say, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Amen! There is such diversity in both of these communities, but our media representations don’t often reflect that. For example, I was intentional in writing an autistic character with deep empathy. You don’t often see that because of the misperception that people with autism lack feelings for others. It’s so untrue. My deeply compassionate daughter demonstrates that daily.
In addition to your book, what are some other children’s books for families looking to read about neurodiverse characters?
There are some really good ones! I’m a big fan of Sally J. Pla, who identifies as being on the spectrum and has written, “The Someday Birds, Stanley Will Probably be Fine” and the picture book “Benji, the Bad Day, and Me.” I also recommend “The Stars Beneath our Feet” by David Barclay Moore. If you love Legos, you’ll love it. And, for siblings of neurodiverse brothers and sisters, I love “Slider” by Pete Hautman. But these are just a few of the great titles out there right now. And all of them help neurotypical and neuro-atypical readers remember that, as Hank says, “Different isn’t less.”
Find Finnegan at margaretfinnegan.com or on Twitter @FinneganBegin.