Imaginative Illustrations: Math teacher works with doctor to publish a children’s book over quarantine

Elliot Bramson, Reporter

A dodo bird, a hawk, a dog and a turtle go on a journey to learn about diversity, friendship, resilience and how to embrace their strengths instead of worrying about their weaknesses. In the beginning of the pandemic, high school math teacher John Watkins-Chow illustrated a book about these animals called “Raph’s Tale” authored by Dr. Dan Shapiro, father of CESJDS alumni Ben, AJ, Aaron and Barry Shapiro.

“It is about developmental differences and needing some friends and getting a little help along the way. It’s a story about courage and resilience even when you’re different,” Shapiro said. “The dodo has small wings and can’t fly, but he has to learn to get along and he knows he has strong legs and learns to ride a unicycle. It’s about what you can do and not what you can’t do.”

Shapiro works with young people with disabilities such as autism and ADHD and anxiety. Shapiro and Watkins-Chow collaborated on two books for parents which came out in November of 2016 and 2019. When Shapiro was looking for someone to illustrate his books, his children remembered that Watkins-Chow was an artist, so Shapiro followed his kids’ recommendation and asked Watkins-Chow to illustrate.

“The parents loved it and said I should make it into a children’s book. The third book, ‘Raph’s Tale,’ is a children’s book extracted from the first two books,” Shapiro said.

Watkins-Chow, although a math teacher, also has a background in art. He used to post drawings on his website, “The John Watkins-Chow Gallery – Angelfire.” Watkins-Chow typically draws only in black and white or pencil; however, he used water color for the first time in his art for this book.

“Over COVID, I decided to try and learn a new skill. … I was really proud about how my colored illustrations came out,” Watkins-Chow said.

Watkins-Chow said that he is “good at starting things but not finishing.” He learned that taking on too much responsibility can end in failure and that he should take everything one step at a time.

“There were times where I had trouble and couldn’t keep working and others where it just came easy and my work was moving quickly,” Watkins-Chow said.

According to Shapiro, the book provides insight to parents, teaching them how their kids feel and how they can take better care of them. The book is also enjoyable for kids with disabilities to read.

In the story, a dodo bird, Raph, who cannot fly and a hawk named Hawk build a boat and go on a journey up-river. When they get to shore, they make two friends named Dog and Turtle who are fast and slow, respectively. Raph, on a unicycle, decides to go on a journey with his friends, but they have to figure out how to get past a mountain that is in their path.

“Since ‘Raph’s Tale’ came out, I’ve gotten some nice emails from parents saying that they left the book out and they found their kids bringing the book wherever they go and reading it,” Shapiro said. “People have even sent me pictures of their kids reading the book and enjoying it, and it felt really good.”

Shapiro and Watkins-Chow said they worked really well together and enjoyed their partnership.

“I have some ideas about more books for the future, and I will absolutely call Mr. Watkins-Chow to help me out. We have a great partnership going,” Shapiro said.