You drew inspiration for this story from many of your own personal experiences…
Whether it be from your travels or even your interabled family, can you please talk about how you felt incorporating so many personal details in this story?
Just like every writer, what is personal and meaningful to the heart, ends up on the page – in one form or another. In The Someday Birds, the form was partly geographical, because I drew a lot upon the cross-country car trips we took as a young family – how hard all that change and movement and disruption felt, but how exhilarating, and broadening, too.
Charlie’s family is not based on my family, although Charlie, himself, reflects much of how I viewed the world as a twelve-year-old. They say that children’s authors write for the age they were when something especially monumental happened to them. For me it’s that span between ten and fourteen. That’s when I realized there were certain social rules about the greater world around me – but I had absolutely no clue how to navigate this. I had to study, observe, learn as if my life depended on it (which I guess in a way it did).
Why was it important to you to never define Charlie as a person with autism?
I started writing The Someday Birds in 2014 (it was published in 2017). Back then, the trend for writing disabled/autistic characters in fiction was to subtly, or not-so-subtly, pathologize them. Every story I read that included ‘autism’ felt squirmy, wrong, somehow othering. None of them felt like a story I’d want my own autistic son to read.
For instance – and this is not even ten years ago – if you read a kid’s book with an autistic character, chances are it went something like: “My brother Johnny has what is called ‘autism,’ the diagnostic symptoms of which I will now sprinkle through this story. Now that you are aware and informed of his many issues and problems, you can be more understanding!”
Or maybe it ran like inspiration porn. Something like: “My annoying autistic brother Johnny causes so many problems in my life… but through the course of this story, I become a better person because of him! Disabled people are so inspiring!”
So, when I started writing Charlie’s story in 2014, I yearned for kids to see Charlie just as Charlie, a kid more or less like them — not through the upfront lens of a predetermined label, or the pigeonhole of a diagnosis.
In recent years, though, things have changed a lot. I love the books – such as those by Elle McNichol, Margaret Finnegan, Jen Wilde, and Sarah Kapit, to name just a few of many talented authors — that proudly celebrate the autistic label! If I had to do it over again, I probably would label Charlie.
But then again, maybe not? Maybe it’s good to have some books with proud positive labels, and also some others that just let the characters be. The best of both approaches.
Charlie’s Someday Birds list represented many things, including hope. If you were to have your own Someday list, what would be on it?
The names of the people and places I love and long to visit again, someday. The pandemic has really exacerbated my anxiety over traveling. I’m working to overcome that and get back out there.
When Charlie and Davis witness the starlings they wonder if the 7 touching birds are all members of the same family. Charlie realizes that his flock includes non-family members as well. What do you hope readers will learn about the meaning of family?
Part of coming-of-age is realizing that there is a world beyond our immediate, given family: a world out there we can take part in, make connections in. Have you ever seen a murmuration of starlings or swallows, how they swoop and curl and expand and contract? And you realize that the one is only part of the many, and the many is as one.
We are born with a family, and if we are lucky, as we grow and take flight out into the world, we find the friends who feel warm as family. Sometimes even closer than family. And we add them in, to fly right there with us, at the tips of our wings.
What do you imagine Tiberius Shaw would have told Charlie had he had the opportunity to ask him what the wisdom was that he gained that helped him survive?
I think Tiberius Shaw tried to answer that question for Charlie in his letter, the one Charlie reads on the plane: “Life is hard. There is no one right way through.” That it’s good to try something that scares you a little, that’s hard for you, every day, because that helps you grow as a person.
And I believe he said that it’s cowardly easy in this world to destroy things, while it takes real courage to create, build, renew, and embrace life.
Also, that it helps to be a keen observer. To have a true heart, and see clear to the core truths.
I’m wishing that for us all!
– Sally J. Pla, NEW BOOK JOY Guest Author
About the Author
Sally J. Pla
has thought of herself as a writer since she was in second grade.
She was called too sensitive, too timid, and too silent, was very fearful and bewildered by everything, and mainly liked to spend time alone in the quiet (she loved the outdoors)! She felt a lot of self-doubt and fear as a child, but started to learn skills to help herself manage with autism into her adulthood.
Since then, she’s dedicated her writing career to learning to push past fear and feeling more at ease in the world because “there is more power and ability inside your special self than you realize”.
Sally currently lives in San Diego, California, as an “own-voices writer” and advocate for neurodiversity and autism acceptance.
You can read more about her and her books on her beautiful and witty website www.sallyjpla.com.
She also runs www.anovelmind.com, a site about mental health and neurodiversity in children’s fiction, so be sure to check that out too!
What authors inspire YOU & your family (or close friends) to bond during tough times?
Let’s get a conversation started in the comments below!