Titled Mase in Space, the book was developed and written by speech and language pathologist Michelle Mifsud and her sister, writer Marilyn Formosa, and enriched with illustrations by artist Sharon Naudi.
The idea behind Mase in Space is to provide a fun and playful story to be enjoyed by all children. Overall, the book’s focus is to teach communication and to provide further education to children on how to make everyday requests and implement the use of social greetings. The creators of the book say “it has the potential to offer and enhance communication learning opportunities to both neurotypical children and those who are on the spectrum”.
Storywise, Mase in Space is a fictitious bedtime story, led by an adorable character called Mason, known to readers as Mase. The narrative is set within a dream and revolves around Mase’s space journey using different space vehicles, each with various animals, which he meets and befriends in space. The text utilises rhyme and rhythm to engage young readers and is sure to be well-received by its target market while remaining useful for educators, parents and therapists who wish to implement it as a learning resource.
Michelle, who runs the Sincerely Spectrum clinic and has a professional interest in the field of autism, had this to say about the importance of the book and its method of delivery: “What we often find is a lack of sensitivity to the needs of children with autism. Autism is a vast spectrum of abilities. Hence, it’s impossible for one resource to meet the needs of every child.”
Together with Marilyn, Michelle wrote the story concept for Mase in Space. Michelle shares that the idea of writing a children’s book transpired back in 2017. “I visited the Royal College of Speech and Language in London… attended training on Lis’n Tell Live inclusive storytelling.” After that event Michelle became “intrigued by the concept of using rhythm and trying to engage children, and she explains that even back then she was toying with the idea of writing and publishing a children’s book.
However, at the time, Michelle’s work and education halted any further development of writing that said children’s book. That was until one sunny day on a pair of sunbeds when the sisters pulled out Michelle’s diary, which had a stack of papers tucked away at the back, and from there the idea for the now-named project Mase in Space started to take shape.
Reflecting back on that moment with Marilyn, Michelle shares: “I brought forward this idea thinking she’s absolutely going to shut it down. To my surprise, she was really eager to get on board and was as excited as I was. We pulled out one of these papers there and then, on the edge of the sunbed. We started scribbling some thoughts together.”
Despite her law degree and various attempts at venturing into music, Marilyn found her purpose in writing. “It is the one thing that has always chosen me, rather than the other way around,” she says. Marilyn continued to develop the characters and writing the body of the story, respectfully including her sister’s wishes and direction.
The functional story’s vocabulary was highlighted by Michelle, who explains that it was “vocabulary which we often use in therapy, that I wished to incorporate into this book, to offer a more natural model of how to apply this language within context”.
During the writing stage, the siblings became aware of the work and illustrative style of local artist Sharon Naudi. Michelle shares: “I was speaking with a client in passing that we were looking for an illustrator for a book that we were working on, which had a similarity to a book that I was sharing with her child. And she brought forward Sharon.”
When approached to tackle the illustrations for Mase in Space, Sharon didn’t hesitate in accepting, “From the minute Michelle approached me and explained the whole concept, I fell in love, I embraced it. I wanted to be part of it.”
Sharon works with a variety of different mediums but for Mase in Space she chose to use watercolour. She explained her reason for this choice by saying “watercolour offered me the possibility to play along with its unique softness, but also its whimsical blending techniques and eye-catching vibrancy”.
After months of extended research from all three collaborators, and Sharon’s deep dive into the ways that children diagnosed with learning difficulties respond to images, Sharon discovered she needed to choose a minimalist approach for the illustrations.
About this research she says: “I asked professionals who work with children on the spectrum. We interviewed a lot of parents, showing them a sample of our drawing. They gave us their feedback on what triggers their child. I avoided clutter, but at the same time included fine details, something which most children with autism love and look for in a book. I avoided awkward images and made sure the characters transmit happy, positive feelings.”
Mase in Space is now available to purchase as a hard copy exclusively from the creators. To further accelerate the learning process the book will also be available digitally – as an ebook and interactive game compatible with PC and laptop.
The digitisation process was supported by Go, which chose to support the digital version in order to enhance the learning experience, increase accessibility, and offer a more engaging and personal reading experience. The publication and eventual digitisation of this book promise to boost education for a particular segment of society, fulfilling the company’s mission to support initiatives where no one is left behind. The digital version will be available on the gaming platform itch.io.