‘The Perfect Place to Meet Your Neighbours’: Julia’s Library Story

When Calgary mom Mirna Khaled’s young daughter Julia felt she could not relate to picture books because none of the characters were in a wheelchair like her, Mirna helped write Julia her own book.

Julia is an eight-year-old who has cerebral palsy. Her mother Mirna wanted people to "see her, not the wheelchair," so she and Julia’s aunt, Rawan Khaled, wrote and illustrated a book about Julia and her cousin Annabella, called Julia and Bella.

The story is about Julia getting bullied at school and her headband being stolen. Annabella helps Julia feel better, including buying her a new headband.

Mirna hopes the story will educate other kids about why Julia is in a wheelchair, and teach them that a wheelchair is "not something to be ashamed of."

"I wanted her to see someone like her," Mirna said.

Julia and Bella is on the shelves at libraries throughout Calgary, including Forest Lawn Library, where the Khaled family frequently visits. Julia personally put copies on the shelves at Forest Lawn Library last fall.

"I couldn’t believe it," Mirna said when she learned that Julia’s book would be on Library shelves.

Mirna, Julia, and Jalal, Julia’s twin brother, moved to Calgary in June 2015 from Lebanon. Mirna, a single mother, wanted a better education and more opportunities for her children.

In Lebanon, Julia was not allowed to go to school because the school didn’t have the resources to support her, even though Mirna was an assistant principal. Mirna said people in Lebanon would look at Julia with pity, but in Canada they smile at her and encourage her.

The mother and daughter have a close bond, and Jalal loves to help his mother take care of Julia. "My brother is strong, nice, and he helps," Julia said.

Julia’s personality changed drastically after the family moved to Canada. Before moving to Canada, Julia was non-verbal. Mirna said she will never forget the day that Julia started speaking to strangers and having a conversation with them.

Now Julia initiates conversation with people and always has a smile on her face. She can string together full sentences, in both Arabic and English, and she loves to read books. "Education is her weapon to face the problems in life," Mirna said.

The Forest Lawn Library was a big part of Julia’s advancement in reading and learning, Mirna said. Since they moved to Calgary, Julia and her family regularly visit the Library.

"[The Library] is a safe place to educate and play with your kids," Mirna said. "The Library is the perfect place to meet your neighbours and friends. It’s easy to come here, it’s accessible."

Moving to Canada, Mirna had a dream to raise awareness about cerebral palsy. She wants people to know that Julia "can do everything that you do but in her own special way."

Mirna created a Facebook page and a Go Fund Me page to get the word out about Julia. She is now selling the book, Julia and Bella, and handmade headbands at markets around the city to raise money for a future surgery to enable Julia to walk.

Mirna has always had faith in Julia advancing. "I know that she is a smart girl," she said. "I know she can do it. I know she can learn."

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