A South Australian team of creatives is collaborating to bring inclusion to the page as inspired by a real story of children’s friendship.

Let’s Be Friends is the brainchild of artist Jung Yoon and is a project that seeks to explore social and cultural diversity through art.

Through the work of a dedicated group comprising local neurodiverse and neurotypical people, Let’s Be Friends will create a series of children’s books, the first being ‘Hello to Me’, in addition to a documentary, classroom resources and a giant Jenga set that children can decorate and play.

Jung was inspired by her daughter Joanne, who has a hearing loss and autism, who developed a wonderful friendship with a child who has vision and mobility impairment.

The pair struck up a friendship at school, showing that companionship and acceptance can be boundless.

Developed by creatives from diverse cultural and social backgrounds, the project is set to create an opportunity for children, parents and educators to talk and learn more about diverse friendships.

Hello to Me is about Joanne who is nonverbal and living with multiple disabilities including autism and hearing impairment, and her friendships with children who also live with disability.

“We all need friends. I believe that no one can fully independently live a life without friends,” Jung says. “However, for some people like Joanne, it’s not easy to make friends or even connect to people because of their differences in cultural, social and physical conditions. But if we open our hearts to getting to know them individually, we can find the very best friends. It starts by saying, ‘Hello’. We need more opportunities to learn about others and human diversity by sharing our stories, and that’s what this book is for.”

The story shows how Joanne gets along with her friends and others who are supporting and caring towards her, despite the communication and behavioural challenges.

“All the characters in the book represent real kids who live with multiple disabilities, as well as severe medical conditions. My daughter Joanne is nonverbal, humming and flapping; and neurotypical children or even adults often stare at her different behaviours. I can’t stop them staring at her, but, I appreciate if a child comes to ask me why she makes noises and isn’t talking, then I can have a chance to explain,” Jung says.

“I have also met many great people and kids who are genuinely interested in getting to know Joanne and enjoy being with her. Joanne also tries to initiate friendships with her classmates by holding their hands and sitting with them. Children who are physically and cognitively different can be seen in the same category as children with disabilities, but, if we get to know them individually, we will find they all have different personalities, likes, dislikes, strengths and challenges, and that they’re cheeky and funny just like any other neurotypical children.”

Written by award-winning children’s author Janeen Brian, edited by Penny Matthews and collaboratively illustrated by neurodiverse artist Kurt Bosecke, and character designer Jake Holmes, the project has attracted a team of leading South Australian artists who are working together to bring it to life.

“Friendships are vital to us all as social beings, and yet, without the basic understanding of these children’s need for friendship, formed in their own special way, the general public, including children, parents and educators, may react negatively, perhaps through ignorance, fear or embarrassment,” Janeen says.

“I accepted to undertake this project because Jung also explained the very real and perhaps under-acknowledged aspect of children with disabilities to form and maintain friendships and how that occurs, based on her own daughter, Joanne. I want people to have a bright, informative and positive piece of work, to help them see the commonalities in us all; the need and joy of having valuable friendships of all kinds.”

Accompanying the book will be a documentary directed by Jack Turner and a study guide for teachers and schools.

Hello to me

Art Director Dave Court says the project is a wonderful meeting of minds between local creatives who are committed to telling a story of inclusion and diversity through art.

“I was keen to come on board this collaboration because it’s an important story to tell and really celebrates diversity and friendship,” he says. “Jung is super driven and committed to telling these stories well, and the team is really dynamic. It’s going to be a really great outcome.”

In order to get the project off the ground, the team are today launching a crowdfunding campaign today.

Donors to the project can nominate a school to receive the book and teaching resources as part of their reward with various other rewards on offer to generous contributors.

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To donate to the Pozible campaign, click here