Book on young Emirati with super powers sheds light on autism

The Boy Who Knew the Mountains tells the story of Suhail, a young boy who was shunned by his tribespeople because they were puzzled by his exceptional abilities.

ABU DHABI // An Emirati boy with special powers is the quiet hero of a new children’s book set in Fujairah.

The Boy who Knew the Mountains tells the story of Suhail, a young boy of about 11 or 12, who was shunned by his tribespeople because they were puzzled by his exceptional abilities.

The book has been praised as a deeply touching salute to Emirati culture, which may seem surprising considering it was written and illustrated by two Australian women.

Michele Ziolkowski, an archaeologist who is married to an Emirati and lives in Abu Dhabi, said she was inspired to write the book by the experiences of her son, who has autism, and the stories she heard from her mother-in-law of life in Fujairah before oil.

Suhail Al Sharqi, 9, shares many of the special qualities of the book’s young hero, of whom the narrator says: “People whispered to each other that he was different.”

“I think in the past few years the words special and special education get a little bit of a negative connotation, so I wanted to take that word special and put more of a positive spin on it,” Dr Ziolkowski said.

“So the focus is on the boy’s positive abilities, the amazing things that he can do. He can empathise with people, to the point where it actually upsets him, but he will still empathise.

“He has a very good knowledge of his environment, a good memory, very good navigational skills and he is in tune with his environment.

“I see all of this in my son.”

The story is set in the village of Al Hayl, where the real-life ­Suhail has spent much of his time visiting family including his grandmother, who often shares stories of growing up in the rugged mountains of Fujairah.

Illustrator Susanna Billson, an architect who has worked in the UAE producing technical drawings of archaeological digs, said she wanted to be true to the environment and culture in her depictions of the mountains, forts and people featured in the book.

“I have spent quite a bit of time in those mountains,” Mrs Billson said. “They move you. Those Fujairah mountains are so beautiful and there aren’t many stories that depict those mountains at all.”

The book was recently launched at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair and is being distributed by Hudhud, a Dubai publishing house.

“It’s a deeply touching book,” said Ali Al Shaali, owner and chief executive of Hudhud Publishing.

“It’s from a mother to her son who is having a special condition in his life and she has, with the help of the very creative illustrator here, Suzie, managed to honour the Emirati culture and the Emirati nature. I’m very happy with it.”

rpennington@thenational.ae

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