Dr. Michele Ziolkowski with son Suhail Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: An award-winning children’s book by Abu Dhabi-based author Dr. Michele Ziolkowski is set to be turned into to an animated short film, XPRESS has learnt.

The Boy Who Knew the Mountains, which is based on the author’s 10-year-old son with autism, Suhail, won the Best Children’s Book award at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival earlier this year.

“The idea of making an animated film is to spread our message (of autism) further afield. We hope to complete the project by the summer of 2018 and submit it to film festivals as well,” said Dr. Ziolkowski, an Australian archaeologist.

Set in the mountains of Fujairah, the film will follow the adventures of the central character, also named Suhail. The 10-minute film in Arabic with English subtitles will be produced by Yazan Al Ghazzawi, Head of Film at School of Audio Engineering (SAE) Institute Dubai.

Dr Ziolkowski said the success of the book at the Sharjah Children’s Reading, encouraged her to consider a film so that it would help spread awareness about autism to a much larger audience.

“We want to add to the existing documentaries such as The Brain that Sings and As One: the Autism Project. Animation as a platform appeals to young children and adults alike and can touch on serious topics and convey important messages,” said Michele.

Moving mountains

Dr Ziolkowski and her Emirati husband Abdulla Al Sharqi moved to the UAE capital from Fujairah three years ago in order to enroll Suhail in the New England Center for Children Abu Dhabi, a school for children with autism.

It was there she began working on the book. The setting was a small mountainous village in Fujairah where Suhail’s paternal grandmother, Moza Al Kindi, used to live.

Her architect friend Susanna Billson, who knew Suhail since birth, agreed to do the illustrations. “I wanted to help Michele achieve her vision. The idea of an autistic child experiencing ‘calm’ in the beautiful mountain setting was very powerful,” said Susanna.

For Moza, the book revived memories of her own childhood. “It was a much simpler lifestyle back in the day and we enjoyed it immensely,” she said.

Abu Dhabi sequel

Dr. Ziolkowski is also working on a sequel to The Boy Who Knew the Mountains. To be released early next year, the second book will be set in pre-oil era of Abu Dhabi with the fictional Suhail traversing old areas like Maqta, Umm An Nar and Qasr Al Hosn.

“We hope that the books and the film help change people’s perceptions of children with autism and other individuals with special needs. His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s [Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai] recent terminology ‘People of Determination’ is very apt. In the past, some people described Suhail’s behaviour as stubborn, but I choose to see it as determined,” she said.

The Boy Who Knew the Mountains is available at leading bookstores priced Dh35.

The writer is an Abu Dhabi-based freelancer