Sarah Crowther holds a copy of her book, ‘Is Lydia Strange?’ at Borders Books & Music in Springettsbury Township.
By BETH VRABEL
For the Daily Record/Sunday News
At first glance, the illustrations of “Is Lydia Strange?” by Sarah Crowther are simplistic and child-like. But look closer: Take in the characters’ small hands, large eyes and elongated bodies.
Just like Crowther, there is more than meets the eye. Crowther drew inspiration for her illustration style from her idol, artist, director and producer Tim Burton. Burton’s work, which includes “Edward Scissorhands,” “James and the Giant Peach” and “Alice in Wonderland,” often grapples with quirky characters trying to find their place in the world.
Crowther can relate. The 22-year-old Springettsbury Township resident first penned her children’s book as her graduation exit project for Central High School during her junior year. “Is Lydia Strange?” tells the story of a young girl who moves to a new town. Kids in her new school bully her for her attachment to a stuffed bunny and faerie tales, the way she flaps her hands when she’s nervous and her inability to handle crowds.
Lydia has Asperger’s disorder, a form of autism. So does Crowther.
“We both (Lydia and I) love fantasy,” Crowther said. “For me, it was ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ and for Lydia, it was ‘The Ugly Duckling.’” Like Lydia, Crowther’s autism affected her when she moved from Baltimore to York during middle school.
While there are a number of books that share boys’ experiences with Asperger’s, Crowther couldn’t find any with a female main character, for whom the disorder is rare. So she wrote one.
For Lydia — and Crowther — the disorder is marked by obsessions and social isolation. “Don’t think of it as the movie ‘Rainman,’” said Crowther, who adds that many creative, intelligent people have aspects of Asperger’s. “I can’t socialize very well,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’m 22 and I still watch cartoons. I’d rather watch ‘SpongeBob’ than MTV.”
Crowther was diagnosed with Asperger’s when she was 13, but other kids noticed she was different earlier. Crowther said she was tormented for liking animation. “They (other kids) threw spitballs,” she said. “Rather nasty stuff. But I was strong.”
Her refuge came in books, particularly fantasy stories. “If the world is full of cruelty, you’ve got to escape somewhere,” she said.
Perched on a booth in Borders Books & Music in Springettsbury Township, Crowther spread her hands. “This is Disney World to me. Every time I walk into Border’s, ‘If You Wish Upon A Star’ plays in my head.”
Part of that charm might be seeing “Is Lydia Strange?” stacked with other local authors’ work. Crowther’s mother, Kim, self published the book and worked with Borders bookstores along the East Coast to stock them. Crowther’s father, a composer and writer, proofread and edited.
The book is also available through the York County Library System. Now, Crowther is at work on a sequel to “Is Lydia Strange?” set during Halloween, and a fantasy series.
“I’m so excited,” said Kim Crowther of her daughter’s writing career. “She’s had a tough life with Asperger’s.” While in the bookstore, Sarah Crowther saw a young girl holding a book close to her face while reading and found out the child is visually impaired. “It’s OK,” Crowther said. “We’re all the same. You should never be ashamed about it. Someday you can do something great.”
Resident of: Springettsbury Township
Career: Author of “Is Lydia Strange?,” a children’s book about a young girl with Asperger’s disorder who moves to a new school and deals with bullying.
Hobbies: Fantasy and animation, collecting Disney figurines and children’s books.
Family: Crowther lives with her parents, younger sister and brother.
Author Sarah Crowther is a member of Autism York, a support group for family, friends and people who have autism. The group organizes many events for members to socialize, learn more about the autism spectrum and find out about treatments and therapies.