Co-authors of the children's book "Almost Twins," Anna Moates and Anna Penland, met at Auburn University three years ago in 2018.
Penland said she was one of the first volunteers to help with the Education to Accomplish Grown in Life Experiences for Success program. She said they became very close friends through that experience.
Per the Auburn University website, "The EAGLES program is a comprehensive transition program (CTP) for students with intellectual disabilities."
"The EAGLES program is for people with disabilities to get the chance to have a college experience," Moates said.
According to the "Almost Twins" website, "Anna Moates was the first girl with Down syndrome that joined the EAGLES program at Auburn University."
Moates explained her sister, Ashley Moates, was Miss Auburn from 2017 to 2018 and helped support and raise awareness for the EAGLES program through her campaign.
Penland described Moates as a "trailblazer" for multiple reasons. Not only was Moates a pioneer for the EAGLES program, but also for being one of the first people with a disability to co-author a book.
Penland said it took about a year and a half to fully transform the idea of a book into reality.
The creation of the "Almost Twins" children's book, co-written by Moates and Penland, stems from their desires to see a character with a disability in print.
"Almost Twins" celebrates Moates' and Penland's differences and what makes them unique.
"It's really important that when you become friends with someone you have a lot in common," Penland said. "Anna and I call each other twin because we have so much in common, but we also really wanted to celebrate the differences. We want to encourage kids from a young age that differences are awesome because when you're informed about something it's not as scary."
Penland and Moates' motivations for "Almost Twins" are spurred by the underrepresentation of people with disabilities in children's books, especially.
"I was in an early childhood education class when I was at Auburn and we talked about children's books," Penland said. "The last day of the semester, our teacher read a book where the dad was in a wheelchair and he mentioned how underrepresented people with disabilities are in books. Think about it, you never really see characters in books that are anything other than just that, an average character. So, I called Anna, and I asked her if she ever saw herself in a book as a character. We both paused and thought 'hmm, maybe we could change that.'"
Penland has since graduated from Auburn University with a major in early childhood education and is now a first-grade teacher.
Moates is a current student at Auburn University, majoring in hospitality and minoring in music education through the EAGLES program.
"'Almost Twins' follows the plot of us throwing a surprise party," Penland said. "We tried to sprinkle in both of our strengths and weaknesses and show that they can complement each other and work together, no matter if you have a disability or not."
Moates explained that as a person with a disability, for her, "Almost Twins" is a story about inclusion and celebrating one's differences.
"Almost Twins" has already begun to reach children with disabilities through its message about the importance of inclusion.
"At every single event we've gone to, there has been a child with Down syndrome that has attended," Penland said. "There was a little boy when we were in Seaside [at a book signing] and his parents said that he saw himself in the book. He pointed at Anna Moates' picture on every page. That is kind of our new why. We wanted children to see themselves in our book."
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Harlee Meydrech, junior in public relations with a minor in business, is the assistant managing editor at The Auburn Plainsman.