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Posted on Jul 5, 2023 in Blog, Writing

Geeking Out at nErDcampPA

Geeking Out at nErDcampPA

Now that it’s summer, school’s out and camp is in session. It’s not just for children either! For teachers and school librarians, many states offer nErDcamp, and because most of these are now hybrid or virtual, anyone can attend, not just people in those states. For more about nErDcamp and the unusual capitalization of its name, I explain here.

For the second year in a row, I’m presenting at nErDcampPA on panels about disability and neurodiversity. Once again, this is a virtual conference, and the date this year is Friday, July 14. My morning panel, from 10:15 – 11:15 am, is titled “Neurodivergent Authors Geek Out About Neurodivergent Representation in Kidlit.” I’m presenting with Halli Gomez, Katie Mazieka, and Meghan Wilson Duff and will mainly be talking about Torch and my obsession with history.

The afternoon panel takes place from 2:30 – 3:30 pm and is titled “Why Neurodivergent and Disability Representation Matters in Kidlit.” Along with morning panelists Hallie, Katie, and moi are two new ones joining for the afternoon, Michele Bacon and Zainab Khan. Here, I’ll focus on how I chose to represent autistic protagonists in my biography of Temple Grandin for the She Persisted chapter book series and in my forthcoming picture book illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo, Ways to Play.

The great thing about having lots of books with autistic main characters — both fictional and in the case of Dr. Grandin, real — is that I can explore different facets of the autistic experience. Like many of the earlier books for kids with autistic protagonists — and like many early books with representation of marginalized characters in general — my pioneering novel Rogue focused on struggle. It was about Kiara finding out why she’s different from her classmates and struggling to make and keep friends. At the same time, there are also joyous moments, as when Kiara meets the bike boys and records their stunts, gathering hundreds of likes on social media in the process.

In my later novels, autistic joy plays a bigger role. JJ learns to play the guitar and finds his place as a composer, at one point breaking into the abandoned basement under a pool house in search of the best acoustics. Eventually, he joins a band, communicating through music what’s difficult for him to say in words. While joy would not be a word to describe the journey of three teenagers pursued by the secret police in communist Czechoslovakia in Torch, Tomáš is faced with, and definitively makes, a key life choice that will define his adulthood. That book is not “all about” autism, but autism plays a role in his fight to survive. In Ways to Play, Riley is already diagnosed, but cousins still think they know how to play with toys and Riley doesn’t. Riley is very happy to show them the real deal, and everyone has fun. Ways to Play is all about autistic joy.

These are some of the themes I’ll talk about next week, and I look forward to hearing the other panelists, as you should too. Most of us will also be at NCTE in November, sponsored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The process of winning the sponsorship was long and involved, requiring two levels of competition, so we’re thrilled and honored to have been chosen. Special thanks go to Zainab Khan, who submitted the proposal and who deserves congratulations on the announcement of her second picture book, Hana’s Hajj, illustrated by Anita Semirdzhayn, to be published by Candlewick in spring 2026.



  1. Wow, you are busy, Lyn. But a good busy. Hope you are able to rest too.

    • Yes, getting some rest, though the summer has been busier than I expected. Hope you’re having a great summer!

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