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Fans of the bestselling children's books "Rosie Revere, Engineer" and "Ada Twist, Scientist" should get ready to welcome a new friend.
The latest picture book in the "Questioneers" series is "Aaron Slater, Illustrator," on sale this fall. Aaron is a boy who loves to draw — and struggles to read.
The story is inspired by the book's illustrator, David Roberts, who is dyslexic, says author Andrea Beaty.
"As a kid he struggled mightily through school, just struggled mightily. But he could draw. And he had teachers who saw in him this gift he had, and they just tried to sort of pave the way for him to help him find successes through his art," she says. "Because he had things to say."
Roberts says each new story in the series has been a surprise for him, but Aaron Slater's "really spoke to me."
"I learned very early on that pictures can tell a story just as wonderfully as words can," he says. "This book is especially dear to me as it shows how brilliant Aaron is at storytelling; it’s just that he uses images as his language instead of the written word. I think that’s an incredibly empowering thing to tell children."
Beaty and Roberts' Questioneers are on a roll — they're now in chapter books, activity books, and coming this fall, an "Ada Twist" Netflix series, produced by the Obamas' Higher Ground Productions.
Beaty, an executive producer on the series, has been thrilled to see her characters come alive.
"Everyone cares about these kids in the same way that I do, sees them as just these really special kids," she said. "And they're just doing a beautiful job."
Beaty and Roberts' first book, "Iggy Peck, Architect," was inspired by Beaty's son, who as a child built elaborate structures from pots and pan, soup cans and jelly packets.
"The number of LEGOs I've stepped on in my life really is remarkable," Beaty says. "They hurt."
With that book, Roberts established the "Questioneers" world, drawing delightfully detailed characters who attend Miss Lila Greer's second grade class.
Just as readers puzzle through the illustrations for clues that link the books together, so does Beaty.
For each new book, she looks for hints in Roberts' illustrations for inspiration. Beaty asked herself questions about the characters in those pages to inspire "Rosie Revere, Engineer," "Ada Twist, Scientist" and "Sophia Valdez, Future Prez."
Roberts said he had no grand plan for the characters at first. It's just that Beaty's text called for 17 students in Iggy Peck's class.
"I had a lot of fun imagining who Iggy’s classmates might be," he says. "I was particularly keen to include kids that I didn’t see represented in other books at that time."
Aaron Slater appears in each book in yellow socks — a detail Beaty imagined showed something inside itching to come out. And Aaron is usually depicted with flowers, something that made her think he appreciates beauty.
Illustrating a book about an illustrator has been a challenge for Roberts. "I’m thinking outside of myself and looking for Aaron’s style. What is it that he loves to draw? And how will he draw it? It’s hugely exciting!"
Beaty loves watching children connect to her characters. Many feel so inspired they don't just say they want to be an engineer or a scientist when they grow up.
"They say, 'I AM a scientist. I AM an engineer,' which is a very small thing, but an enormous thing," she says. "So I think these kids, these characters have a power."
And for those who might struggle with a learning disability, Roberts says to take heart.
"If you love stories and books, it may take you longer to read them than other kids, but there is no reason why you can’t enjoy their magic," he says. "Don’t be put off!"