Michelle and the Squeak Monster
Since moving on from ErinoakKids in 2002, Michelle Asgarali has achieved many things. At Sheridan College she graduated from Media Arts after finishing at the top of her class in Advertising. Combining her creative skills she went on to doing contract work in television. Yet her foray into self-publishing a children’s book may reveal what’s to come for this energetic young ErinoakKids alumnus.
Zachary and the Squeak Monster,
written by Asgarali and illustrated by her friend and Animator Lianna Murdoch, combines themes of growing up and of a young person’s potential – themes that resonate with the author’s life. Asgarali has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which limits her physically. But she has never let it limit her goals.
“We moved to Oakville when I was in grade eight. That’s when I started at ErinoakKids,” she recalls. Her earliest memories of ErinoakKids are of the social events, not just therapy. “I went to teen drop-ins, and many clinics. There were seating clinics and occupational therapy. But my involvement increased when I was almost finished, because I was in the Independent Living Program
(LIP) as part of the first group in 2002. I valued every minute, and came back to share my college and work experiences to the new participants throughout the years, finally acting as a ILP goal support worker three years ago.”
She also returned to volunteer with Drama Services
. Each summer the ErinoakKids Players present a play at a local high school. Asgarali hugely impressed Drama Facilitator Danielle Strnad with her skill as production manager in 2010.
“She created a stage management document on her own initiative,” recalls Strnad. “She did it in a way that no one else had ever done for me. She created visuals of everything, in a layout so that the volunteers could just look at it know how to set things up.”
Asgarali has fond memories of the ILP because it helped her make the leap from ErinoakKids client to independent adult. Since then she has worked as a contract researcher for the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN), and likes the flexibility of contract work. “It was fun because I made a lot of contacts, learned about the culture and was able to work my own hours.”
It’s crucial for her to have personal assistance, so working at home allows her to get it from her own family while pursuing her chosen work. “Independence is a state of mind,” she muses. “Living in an accessible apartment can still limit some of what I can do, whereas I can have more independence at home.”
The idea of a children’s book came to her in 2010. She often acted as babysitter for her neighbour’s young children. “I knew them well, and I knew what Zachary, the older brother, liked. I’ve always wanted to write, and I thought here was an opportunity to try.”
As a longtime fan of children’s author Robert Munsch, she resolved to write something to entertain and teach. So she and Lianna set to work. “We’d have meetings at Starbucks, and set out what we needed to have in each illustration.”
The story follows children who repeatedly hear mysterious squeaks, and imagine a Squeak Monster lurking nearby. (Spoiler Alert! The Squeak Monster is a little girl’s squeaky shoes, and clues appear in the pages to give sharp-eyed readers a sporting chance to figure it out.)
The message lies in the symbolism – the title character’s baby sister Amelia, at first seen crawling, gradually shows she is growing up as she sets aside her dependence on her soother, then on her bunny, and finally, the need to crawl. Something similar seems to have taken place in the author’s life. Her years at ErinoakKids helped her to become more independent and show what she can accomplish.
Will Michelle write more children’s books? “Possibly,” she says. “E-publishing is growing. The thing about commercial publishing is, you just send in the writing. You cannot go in as writer and illustrator. For this first project, we worked so hard together that we wanted to complete it together, so we self-published. But I think I will try again.”