Each and every Wednesday night, Gregory G. Allen engages in the same cherished ritual with his godson, Gabriel. They bond over a trip to T.G.I. Friday's, where the youngster faithfully orders his favorite foods: chicken fingers and french fries, side of ketchup, followed by a slice of red velvet cake.
When Allen brings Gabriel back to his Nutley home, he always reads him a story. One night, however, as his godson drifted off to sleep, the budding author found himself studying the subject of his next project.
“I was sitting there with his sister and I said, 'We've got to write a book about your brother,'” Allen recalled.
Inspired by Gabriel's fondness for both chicken fingers and making the noise “Bahcaaaaaah!” Allen penned “Chicken Boy: The Amazing Adventures of a Super Hero with Autism” – a 20-page children's book that has received more than 1,600 votes and is currently the frontrunner of 400-plus entries in the Meegenius Author Challenge 2011.
Voting concludes next Monday on the Meegenius website, but advancing will help Allen move closer to winning the contest's first prize: a publishing contract, $1,500 cash and a MeeGenius e-library donated to the school of their choice when the winner is announced March 7. In addition, “Chicken Boy” would be professionally edited and illustrated.
Two of Allen's books have already been published: “” and “Well With My Soul,” the latter of which was released Oct. 11.
“It's been really exciting,” said Allen, who is also the managing director of Bloomfield College's Westminster Arts Center. “The competition made me see how badly I want to get this book out there. It has nothing to do with me as a writer. It has everything to do with autism awareness. I want more people to be able to read this book and realize there's nothing to be fearful of.”
A student at Radcliffe Elementary School in Nutley, Gabriel was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. Although he endures occasional struggles socially, Allen proudly says his godson is “smart as can be.”
When Allen observed Gabriel and spoke with his godson's sister, he decided he wanted to craft a tale of an autistic child written from the child's perspective instead risking it being told from an adult's vantage point. Over the 20 pages of “Chicken Boy” Gabriel sees himself as a superhero, complete with a cape, learning to cope with others who do not understand him, and eventually winning over a little girl who has a matching cape. The story ends with both children joyfully screaming out the title character's battle cry:
Through his blog, Facebook and Twitter (@GregoryGAllen), Allen has received inspiring feedback from hundreds who have become familiar with “Chicken Boy” – and even a retweet from actress Jane Seymour.
Joan Noe Graves of Kentucky wrote: “I'm in tears. I've got 2 supe (sic) heroes.”
And Traci Ford of Bloomfield said: “I love the superhero aspect of explaining what goes on inside his head! Adorable!”
From a Wednesday night ritual between godfather and godson, Allen's ability to channel Gabriel's voice continues to connect with a broad audience as he hopes to advance in the Meegenius Author Challenge 2011.
“I'm touch by some of the stories they're sharing. All of these children are precious,” Allen said “Even if it does not win, it's amazing that 1,600 people in the past three weeks have been affected by this story enough that they've wanted to share it.
Check out the website and vote HERE.