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Monday, October 04, 2010

Teaching Children How to Appreciate Differences Through the Novel: The Adventures of Abby Diamond

by Kristie Smith-Armand, M.Ed, CTVI

“Being Blind Doesn’t Stop This Girl Detective”

Ten-years- ago, I met a precious little girl named Libby, standing with her cane and wearing a huge smile on her first day of school. Libby Daugherty would soon be my mother’s Braille student.

I was so impressed with Libby when she made it well- known at an early age that not being able to see was never going to get in her way of becoming a great student and having many friends.

Libby was only three-years-old when she began to let the world know that she was no victim, quite the contrary, because Libby was going to do everything everyone else did and more.

What was even more impressive is that Libby had a younger brother, Steven, who was also blind and just as intelligent, creative and confident as his older sibling. Steven was just a toddler when I met him.

Libby and Steven’s parents’, Jennifer and Shawn Daugherty, were and are certainly doing many things correctly in their roles as a parent, and it shows through their children’s many successes. Steven is his school’s weatherman, and like his sister, Libby, makes excellent grades and is popular among his peer group.

My mother, known as Ms. Jamille to Libby, would come home and tell stories about her. She would laugh hysterically at some of the wisecracking antics Libby displayed at school. Libby has never been disrespectful to anyone but has a sense of humor that keeps adults and children rolling on the floor from laughter. Steven is the same way.

One night when my husband and I were eating out at a restaurant he asked me to write a novel series about Libby. He went on to say that a mystery novel would entice children to read a book on their level and understand and appreciate differences in children or adults who cannot see.

“Hmmmm,” I said to him. “I do not do that type of writing. I can only write activity books,” but he disagreed.

The following week my mother and I named my first novel character, patterned after Libby Daugherty, Abby Diamond. Once I had the name Abby Diamond in my head, the rest of Abby’s friends in the following three novels took off in my imagination.

In the series: The Adventures of Abby Diamond- Out of Sight, The Adventures of Abby Diamond- Secrets in the Attic and Diamond in the Rough, many mysteries surround Abby and her best friends: Neils, Andrea, Alison, Jaxson and Glen.

Abby is a girl detective, clever and the leader of her classmates. Because she is blind, Abby uses her adaptive equipment in class, her cane, and attends all types of events for children who have a visual impairment. Many students who are blind have commented to their vision teacher that since Abby has a note taker, they, too want one to use in class, begin to use their cane and attend events for children who have a visual impairment through Region 10 Educational Service Center. She has become their role model.

Neils, who is possibly Abby’s best friend of the gang, is an adorable redhead who is quite the tomboy. Neils is adventurous and not afraid of anyone or anything.

Andrea is a beautiful African American with large hazel eyes who guides the gang through difficulty. Andrea is well known for her intelligence and decoding skills.

Alison is the pretty and lonely daughter of a famous movie star, Kaitlyn Summers, who lives with her mother’s worker, Audie. Although Kaitlyn loves Alison and later the two become close, Alison still prefers to live by her closest friends and with her adopted dad in a small and unassuming household.

Jaxson is a chubby outcast who has extremely poor grammar, gets into trouble at times but is lovable just the same. Boys beg me to include Jaxson in more stories. One student commented that Jaxson was certainly the definition of a red neck.

Jaxson’s sidekick is Glen. Glen is thin, intelligent, wears thick glasses and is known as the parrot because he imitates and repeats everything Jaxson says. Jaxson is Glen’s only best friend, and he isn’t about to lose him.

While all the characters are dear to me, I felt compelled to show children that everyone has strengths and weaknesses through the characters in the Abby Diamond novels.

It is interesting and flattering when students who are blind in Dallas and Mesquite ISD ask me to write more stories about Abby and her gang because, as they reason, “We finally have a character who is strong, intelligent, funny and blind.” What is just as exciting is that sighted children are begging to be a part of the books and have given me many story lines and ideas for the novels. One student from Dallas asked me to write him in the story as a bully and someone everyone feared. I agreed only after I told him his character must change his ways and end up being a good guy. Ernesto nodded in agreement and said, “This is awesome!”

While Abby is noticeably blind in the series, her lack of sight is the last detail that students notice. They see Abby as a character who is strong-willed, smart-alec, funny, and nobody’s victim as she constantly seeks to help others who are in need.

The novels point out that everyone in the Abby Diamond novels has both good and bad in them, however, throughout the messes and mistakes they get themselves into, they are lovable and inspirational just the way they are. Abby and her gang find mysterious Braille notes written to Abby in one story, a secret room in an attic filled with Braille journals and memorabilia from the past, take an imaginary journey on the Titanic and learn about WWII. Abby also meets up with a teenage wizard, encounters ghosts from the Fort Worth Stockyards, and grows up to own her own detective agency, or does she? Do these events really happen, or is it once again Abby’s imagination?

Abby and her friends also teach us through the mysteries that we are different in ways and alike in so many others. The characters remind us that we eliminate people from our lives because they are different, we miss out on many wonderful friendships and opportunities.

When I first began writing the Abby Diamond stories, I was going to write one novel, but this little character will not allow me to stop. I am now working on my fourth Abby Diamond novel, Timeless Adventures, where Abby, Neils, Jaxson, Glen, Andrea and Alison learn about family members from years ago, authors and many others from the past after Abby finds an antique telephone in an old shop. Through the mysterious phone characters will meet Anne Frank, Lewis Carroll, Beatrix Potter and other famous children authors from years ago. In one storyline, Abby meets Anne Frank in the upstairs room of Anne’s father’s office where Anne’s family is hiding from German soldiers. It is in this segment that Anne Frank shares an important secret with Abby as well as the rest of us- “We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same,” Anne whispers in Abby’s ear.

Through The Adventures of Abby Diamond I would like to remind others of the wise words of Anne Frank who was eventually killed because of her differences, and point out that there is much we can value and appreciate in each other in spite of our diversity.

The Adventures of Abby Diamond and Diamond in the Rough can be purchased from Barnes and Noble, Amazon Books, iuniverse Publishing or please visit me at my website:

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