Wednesday, February 23, 2022

An autistic author’s journey to writing and illustrating her children’s book series


How I Got Started as an Author

Ever since I can remember I have always loved to read and draw, and even as an adult, I enjoy drawing in my free time.  Despite my interest in literature from a young age, I did not actually start writing stories until later.  Writing in school was not enjoyable for the simple fact that the writing prompts were never about something I could relate to or had any knowledge of.


It was not until I attended Exceptional Minds, an art and animation school in California for autistic young adults, that a spark was lit inside me to write and illustrate books as a career. While I was good at animating, it caused me more stress than I could handle. I learned so much about animation, but it made me realize that I would rather have my characters on a page instead of moving on a screen.

My Story Just Came to Me One Day

I had the idea for a story where the characters go back and forth between imagination and reality, but I could not figure out how the overall story would play out.  Then one day when I was walking my dog, the full story for Wild Imagination: The Adventures of Maddie and Albert, just came to me.  

I have had my characters, Maddie and Albert, for a while. They originated from my earlier teenage characters, “the Outcasts”. Over time, Maddie and Albert became more fun to draw. They are the kind of characters that you can draw in any situation, and they always look cool. 

When I started drawing Maddie and Albert full time, their story started to grow. Halfway through Wild Imagination, I decided that they needed an animal sidekick, so Houdini the beagle was born. The idea for Houdini came from my mom who had a beagle that could escape from anything. Houdini’s escaping abilities are stories I plan to share in later books. 


The Adventures of Maddie and Albert takes place in Canton, Ohio, where my mom grew up. She has shared with me many stories from her childhood, and they really inspired a lot of Maddie and Albert’s adventures. Maddie is actually based on my mom as a kid – adventurous, social, and always running around.  Albert is based on who I actually am – shy, funny, and quiet.

I have released three The Adventures of Maddie and Albert books, and the fourth book in the series, Backyard Jungle, will be released in April 2022.  It is an incredibly exciting series and there are more adventures to come.

Every Writer Has a Unique Process 

Every writer has a unique process that works best for them. When I come up with a story idea, I build on what I want to say and draw sketches for each page. As an illustrator as well as an author, I use storyboards to map out what will be written and illustrated. I draw a lot of rough sketches on my whiteboard while brainstorming before anything is finalized. It is definitely a process.


Writing the story and deciding on the illustrations is the hardest part.  Whenever I finish a section of writing, it is a huge sense of accomplishment. Drawing and fine-tuning the  illustrations is the easy part for me. I am very visual and once I have reached this stage in the process, I have already worked out in my mind what I want each page to look like. Part of the  ongoing process is to constantly learn about new places and experiences my characters might encounter in their daily lives. This just means I am in constant research mode and absorbing everything around me.

Many Authors and Illustrators Collaborate on Projects

While writing and illustrating my own books is my passion, and I have written and illustrated four The Adventures of Maddie and Albert books, I have also collaborated with other authors including Bobbie Match.  I have illustrated all three of her books in the Busy One Book Series


Illustrating my own stories is very challenging but illustrating another author’s story poses a different challenge in itself.  One has to understand how the author is envisioning the characters and how they flow through the book. I have to depend on clear instructions from the author so that I better illustrate their vision. Having this makes it less challenging to draw the illustrations. I enjoyed designing Bobbie’s characters, but it definitely felt different from working on my own books. I spent so much time working on the illustrations, and I am proud of them.  I learned so much about myself from the experience and hope to collaborate more with other authors in the future.

Reading is the Best Path to Writing

The best advice I can give to kids who aspire to become an author or illustrator is to read every book you can get your hands on. You can learn something from everything you read. Reading will give you an idea for the types of stories you like, it will increase your vocabulary and it will help you more than you realize in understanding what goes into a successful story. 


If drawing is your passion? Draw whatever you like, and whenever you like.  As a kid, I carried a sketchbook everywhere I went. I was always drawing. I found myself drawing comics in the empty spaces of my notebooks and even my elementary school yearbook. 


I also used my love of reading to start a blog. Back in 2015, my parents suggested that I start a book blog, since I am such a voracious reader. I started reviewing books ever since. My age recommendations are based on how I would have handled the book as a child. I have posted over 360 reviews to date, and I am not planning on slowing down anytime soon. It is also proven to be a great resource for local librarians in my community. They often refer kids and their parents to my blog for reading recommendations. 

If you aspire to be an author or illustrator, remember, it is not going to happen overnight. Every author has their own path and journey to realizing their dream. The biggest thing is to shoot high and aim for the stars. Always keep writing and drawing pads nearby, read everything you can get your hands on, and never give up on your dreams. 



Alexandra Adlawan is a writer and illustrator from Long Beach, CA, and creator of the Amazing Artists publishing company. A naturally gifted visual arts and written word communicator in reaching children, Alexandra enhanced her skill set by graduating from Exceptional Minds – a professional digital arts & animation studio for artists with autism. Alexandra’s children’s book series includes, The Adventures of Maddie and Albert, Wild Imagination, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Flying the Imaginary Skies, and the forthcoming, Backyard Jungle


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