Tag Archives: books

Creating Tim-Tron, the robot with a brain injury

Guest post from Ian Ray. Ian is editorial manager at The Children’s Trust, the UK’s leading charity for children with brain injury. He leads the Brain Injury Hub, an online resource and forum for families of children with brain injury.

How do you tell your child they may not be quite the same again?

Thousands of parents across the UK face this very problem each year after their child sustains an acquired brain injury.

It’s hard to overstate how shocking this can be for a family, as their otherwise healthy little boy or girl is hospitalised through an impact to the head, or a ‘non-traumatic’ injury such as stroke or meningitis. This shockwave may rumble on for many years afterwards, as children and families contend with a huge range of issues and impairments (it would take another handful of blogs to cover them all!).

Just one of these issues is the difficulty some children have with their own awareness about their injury and its effects. This makes a lot of sense when you think about it, in that the very organ children use to make sense of themselves may not be at full strength.

On the face of it, this lack of awareness might seem a blessing, but actually, it may be hard for children to address their difficulties if they don’t understand them. They may push themselves too hard, or miss mistakes they’re making.

Heads Up, Tim-Tron

Cartoon of Tim-Tron, a robot with a dog
Tim-Tron with his dog

With Heads Up, Tim-Tron, we’ve tried to help parents of younger children broach this complex issue in a colourful and interesting way. It’s a picture book about a little robot who bangs his head, an idea that came about after one of our clinicians compared the human brain to a cluster of tiny working circuits.

We know boys are disproportionately affected by traumatic brain injury, and a comparison with the circuits in a little robot’s brain seemed like a funny way to appeal to them (hopefully without excluding little girls!).

The more we thought it through, the more aspects of brain injury seemed ripe for the robot treatment; the tiredness children experience after an injury might be rendered as a battery running low, or the difficulty some children have absorbing information might be trouble with a processor.

We’d recently launched our Brain Injury Hub resource and forum, and so a story for children seemed like the perfect next step.

Getting started

After working up the story from home, I nervously took my first draft to a writing tutor, who helped me get the book in better shape. He suggested I put together some guide illustrations to ‘storyboard’ the book, which was enormous fun.

As the story developed, it became increasingly important that we didn’t have a big, shiny happy ending. Sadly, we know rehabilitation can sometimes be an ongoing process for children, so it was important that our story ended on a cautiously optimistic note. I hope we’ve achieved this.

When I had something that looked like a (somewhat amateurish) children’s book, our own experts made sure it ‘did its job’ from a clinical perspective. We also shared the draft with some of our families, who weren’t shy about telling us it was far too long.

Illustrating the book

Our director of fundraising was able to have the project charitably-funded, and we were now ready to take on an illustrator for the book. This was far and away the most exciting aspect of the project, as I trawled through illustration directories looking at every conceivable style of children’s artwork.

We eventually chose Garry Parsons, an award-winning artist who hand-paints each page of his books. With his expert eye, Garry saw immediately that my version of Tim-Tron was too adult-like for young children, so he put together a collection of little robot drawings we could show to children to see who their favourites were.

With our main character designed, Garry developed initial ‘thumbnail’ sketches that soon became a pencil storyboard for the entire book. This itself then blossomed into a series of vivid paintings telling Tim-Tron’s story.

Tim-Tron playing with a dog outside his house
Tim-Tron playing outside his house in Transistor Avenue
Tim-Tron in a rocket, flying past a red planet
Tim-Tron on a trip to Mars

Richard Hammond lends his support

Richard Hammond in a recording studio
Richard Hammond records the audiobook

Over the last few years The Children’s Trust has benefited from the support of Richard Hammond, the Top Gear presenter who himself sustained a brain injury during filming. Despite a manic calendar of filming and appearances, Richard took the time to record an audiobook version of Heads Up, Tim-Tron for families to read along with.

With the audiobook recorded, our production process was almost complete, and after a couple of insomnia-inducing slip-ups in our schedule, we got the book to our printer.

Getting the final product back in a series of neat little boxes was a genuine thrill. And shortly afterwards, we were told the United Kingdom Brain Injury Forum had awarded us their “Innovation in the Field of Brain Injury” award for the project, a wonderful recognition of the hard work of our little team.

All we need to do now is get the book into your hands. I’m already proud of our little robot, and I hope his story will be genuinely useful to children, their friends, siblings and families.

Tim-Tron will be available from 13 January for just the cost of postage and packing from The Children’s Trust, email thehub@thechildrenstrust.org.uk if you’re interested.

Scope also has a list of positive children’s books featuring disabled characters and storybooks to download.

Encouraging children who struggle with reading

Guest post from Rose-tinted World – a parent of a family affected by Irlen syndrome and dyspraxia. She blogs to raise awareness of these condition and to share information with others affected.

World Book Day is an annual celebration of books and reading. This year World Book Day falls on 7 March. World Book Day offers a great opportunity for children – it allows everyone to find something to enjoy about literature. This seems quite obvious but it is a point worth making. Not every child is a natural reader and all develop as confident readers at their own pace. Some, like my daughter, have to contend with a learning difficulty that makes independent reading more difficult.

How wonderful to have day where everyone can talk about their favourite books and fictional characters. At my children’s school the children are allowed to dress up as their favourite character for the day. This makes all the children equal. Nobody has to read out loud, or show how slowly they read or even say how many books they have read themselves. They only have to share their love of their favourite book with their peers.

We have always read to our children. This proved particularly helpful when my daughter’s problems with reading started. We were able to read her far more complicated books than she could read to herself. This enabled her to listen to chapter books and to develop an understanding of more complex narratives and extended character development. This also allowed her to continue to build on her love of literature.

Come World Book Day two years ago she chose one of the characters from the books we had been reading to her. This was one of the fairies from the ‘Rainbow Fairies’ series of books by Daisy Meadows. She loves these books and has collected many of the series over a number of birthdays.

Son dressed as dinosaurLast year my daughter dressed as the witch from the ‘Worst Witch’ by Jill Murphy. My son dressed a dinosaur from ‘Dinosaurs and all That Rubbish’ by Michael Forman. We also attended the book fair that was put on at the school. My children love this event – All the children love this event and it is always a pleasure to see children so excited by books.

Last year both my children chose books and we went off to meet a friend for dinner. Our friend was running a little late and my daughter took out her book and asked if she could read it. At this point she had only managed to read picture books but I didn’t point this out as she happily held up the chapter book she had chosen. My friend arrived and we started nattering not really noticing how quiet my daughter was being. My daughter read all through our visit with our friend and then went off to her room when we got home. The next morning my daughter announced she had read the book and it was great. I was amazed that she had managed to do this and a bit confused about where this sudden breakthrough had come from. So I asked her how come she had read the whole book and she answered quite simply – because she had picked it up from a shelf that said ‘read it yourself’.

"Read alone" sign

I always remember this moment with warmth. We had had so many struggles in the years before this – fraught home work sessions and frustrated reading practices. We had also had uncertainty about where progress could come from. It made me laugh that my daughter had taken a sign so literally and that this has enabled her to take a massive leap in her own development.

We are always happy when World Book Day comes around. We have always had the belief that the joy of literature can communicate itself and that there are many ways to appreciate books (listening, dressing up, drama etc). We enjoy World Book Day because it gives us the perfect opportunity to remember all of these things.

Find information on World Book Day
Ideas on World Book Day costumes