NEWCASTLE children's book author Paul Russell continues to mine a deep field of stories about kids who don't fit a stereotype.
His latest book, The Incredibly Busy Mind of Bowen Bartholomew Crisp, illustrated with Nicky Johnston, and published by EK Books, celebrates being different and encourages children, educators, and families to look at the world with curiosity and embrace neurological diversity.
Russell is a Year 4 teacher at Bishop Tyrrell Anglican College in Fletcher. He has dyslexia (a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words). He didn't know he had dyslexia until he became a teacher.
"I'm a bit of an audible learner," he says. "When I heard things, I would retain them. It wasn't until Year 10 I discovered books... I had a teacher who said, 'he needs to work on spelling, but he's a great writer.
"It wasn't until I was in my 20s, I was teaching a child who had severe dyslexia, when I was going through the forms and ticking the boxes, I thought, "I had that, I had that, I had that... I never really thought about how I read."
Russell has been a prolific writer. His first children's picture book, Grandma Forgets, released in 2017, was a success, and is now being published in its ninth language.
He has followed up with My Storee, about dyslexia; The Incurable Imagination; and earlier this year, Courageous Lucy, about anxiety.
The Incredibly Busy Mind of Bowen Bartholomew Crisp publishes on July 20. The book is inspired by the personal experiences of Russell and illustrator, Nicky Johnston, who has a 10-year-old son, Bowen, with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD.
"When our first book was published, I went to Melbourne and met Nicky [who had illustrated it]," Russell says. "Bowen took all the cups and made a sculpture on the table.
"Since then, as a teacher, I had chats with Nicky about how he struggles at school, how it's such a horrible place.
"He was such a clever child.
"I kept saying, 'it's OK, I was like that and turned out OK'. "
When Russell was a child, he never encountered somebody like himself, he says. But the world has changed.
"The biggest thing when I grew up, there was no one like me in my atmosphere," he says. "Now, people can find communities and groups, and like-minded people. Connection is an amazing thing."
His background and enthusiasm have driven his success in children's books.
"All of my books touch on these topics which can be daunting, but have a silver lining," he says.
His classroom keeps him well-grounded, although the kids eventually figure out he is an author, too.
"I've become a little bit more notable," he laughs. "I sign their diary every week but they'll get excited when I sign their book."