REPRESENTATION Disability Awareness Day



Words & Pictures takes a look at representation of disabilities in children’s books for Disability Awareness Day (July 17, 2022). Eva Wong Nava, Features Editor for Representation, chats with Camilla Chester, author of Call Me Lion about an invisible disability that is still little known.


As a children’s book author with two picture books, each one featuring a main character with a  disability, I am always interested in other children’s books that do the same. In my debut picture book, The Boy Who Talks in Bits and Bobs, my main character, Owen, has a stutter, but sings like a nightingale. In my second one, Sahara’s Special Senses, my protagonist Sahara is visually impaired, but she uses her other sensorial super powers to learn to cook. I wrote these two books because I wanted young readers to be able to see that even though life throws us curve balls, we can still play a great game, and that any disabilities that we have do not have to impede us.


 Eva's character in The Boy Who Talks in Bits and Bobs has a stutter

 In Sahara's Special Senses, Sahara is visually impaired

Both my characters have obvious, or visible, disabilities. When I came across Camilla’s book, Call Me Lion, I was fascinated by her representation of selective mutism, an invisible disability that rarely gets talked about and was really pleased that she was able to answer some questions for us.


 Call Me Lion is published by Firefly Press

1. Would you tell our readers how you started out as a children’ s book author?

 I’ve always been a writer, and for as long as I can remember wanted to write for children, but I started to pursue it as a professional career in 2010 when I moved from Sheffield to Harpenden. Having stopped my career to raise my two children, I found I had more time to focus on writing.


2. You must be excited about your new book — Call Me Lion. What inspired you to write this book?


Thank you! I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be the author of Call Me Lion which is a collaborative project. It came about from the arrival of a little boy’s voice in my head that was gently persistent. It’s never happened before nor since and was quite magical.


3. Why selective mutism? Can you explain this condition to our readers?


Selective mutism (SM) is a social anxiety condition which is described as a phobia of talking. It is very rare and usually affects children rather than adults. I didn’t choose to write a story about SM, but the boy who talked to me was only talking to me. He had SM and that’s why Call Me Lion came about. I can’t explain it any other way.


4. Was researching this book challenging? Tell us more about the research you had to do to write this book, ie is there enough data and material out there for a writer interested in this condition?


When I realised Lion had SM I started researching in the usual way  online searches, watching documentaries and YouTube videos, reading fiction, both adult and children's, with characters with SM and reading non-fiction too, but it felt superficial. I wanted to feel I had genuine permission to write about something that wasn’t my personal experience. I found a charity called SMiRA that supports families across the world that are affected by SM. They were wonderful and put a post out on their Facebook group about me and what I was trying to do. From that moment the book went to a whole new level.


5. Did you reach out to a sensitivity reader for your book? Did the editor reach out to a sensitivity editor? If yes, tell us about your experience working with a sensitivity reader on the editing of your book.


Sensitivity readers...well here’s the thing with Call Me Lion. I approached SMiRA with the idea of getting sensitivity readers, but once I got to know and really understand SM I realised I was approaching the book in completely the wrong way. You can’t just get details checked, you have to write from a position of knowledge from the beginning. Based on getting to know real life children with SM, I wrote the book again from scratch. The setting and characters were the same, but the plot changed because I was no longer tagging the SM onto Lion. SM was core to who he was; central to how he behaved and the decisions he made, which obviously affected the direction of the story. Later, with the fantastic Firefly editor, Leonie Lock, we did approach sensitivity readers, but this was mainly to check cultural appropriation details on having Richa, an Indian girl, as the supporting character and not anything connected with SM.


6. If I haven't asked a question that you are eager to answer, please go ahead and do so.


I’d just like to add that even though SM is at the core of Call Me Lion, it isn’t the book’s entirety. I wanted to bring awareness and understanding of SM, but I also wanted the book to be uplifting and heartfelt. I think it’s vital that we don’t always see disability in a negative light, and instead focus on being compassionate. Being empathetic brings us joy, because we are able to connect with people different from ourselves in some way. Connection is a human need. Call Me Lion is full of dance and laughter and love. It’s a story of friendship and connection. I know that Lion will go on to a bright future because he has come from a genuine place of understanding and compassion.



*Header image by Katie Mazeika 
 *All cover images provided by the authors
*Cover Illustration Copywrite: Irina Avgustinovich



Camilla Chester is a dog walking, hybrid Children’s Author, with three self- published and one traditionally published novel, entitled Call Me Lion. She has been shortlisted twice in national competitions, writes on commission for the popular online school resource, Serial Mash, is an active SCBWI volunteer and is represented by Veronique Baxter at DHA.






Katie Mazeika is an author and illustrator with a BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design. When she isn’t in the studio, she likes to spend time at the theater, in her garden or getting lost in a good book. She lives in Ohio with her husband, two kids (Lillian and Jack), and two dogs.




Eva Wong Nava is the Representations Editor for Words & Pictures. Contact her at W&



Gulfem Wormald is the Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact: Twitter: @GulfemWormald

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