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Anna Moates, Auburn Eagles student, recent alumnae publish children’s book about friendship, inclusion

By:  Neal Reid | Office of Communications and Marketing Auburn University

Auburn University EAGLES student Anna Moates and recent College of Education graduate Anna Penland have written and published a new children’s book and will take part in a special signing at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center on Friday, Sept. 24, during homecoming weekend on the Plains.

Moates is a fourth-year student in the college’s EAGLES program—for students with intellectual disabilities—and collaborated with Penland, now a first-grade teacher at Augusta Circle Elementary in Greenville, South Carolina, on a book titled “Almost Twins: A Story of Friendship and Inclusion.” The self-published book—which features illustrations by Pavithra Pyarilal—tells Moates’ story as a young woman with Down syndrome in an open and educational way designed to reach children.

In the book—which is available for purchase online and via other sellers like Amazon—Moates’ story describes how she regularly imagined having a twin sister while growing up and outlines her experience of meeting Penland at Auburn. The brunettes hit it off and became good friends after they discovered they look a lot alike and have many similar interests, so they bonded naturally and quickly at Auburn.

“Not only did we have the same name, hair color and height when we met, we quickly realized we have very similar morals and interests,” said Penland, who served as an EAGLES WINGS mentor and earned a Bachelor of Arts in early childhood education. “We loved going to church together, singing in the car, lying on the beach, doing acts of kindness for friends and being with family. Through spending all this time together, we know each other like family and it’s such a special bond. She overflows with confidence and reminds me that it’s okay to be myself each and every day.”

Penland graduated earlier this spring, and Moates will complete her comprehensive transition program and participate in commencement exercises in May of 2022. Moates has been a campus leader, involved with Auburn University Singers, Diamond Dolls and working at The Collegiate Hotel and the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center.

“I have always loved writing, so when Anna asked me if I wanted to write a book with her, I was already on board for sure,” said Moates, the first student with Down syndrome to participate in the EAGLES program. “Anna was one of my very first friends at Auburn, so from the time I met her, she and I were super close that we were almost like sisters. What I like about Anna so much is her awesome personality and her ability of looking on the inside at the heart of others. She accepted me as a normal person and never judged me for having Down syndrome, and that’s when I knew that the two of us were true friends for life.

“I want all children to learn from the ‘Almost Twins’ book that, even though people have disabilities, that doesn’t mean that they are defined by their disability. I want them to learn that it is ok to be different, because being different is what makes you special and makes you, you!”

Moates’ personal journals served as the roots of the project, and the students’ friendship sparked a working relationship that helped the narrative come to life. She loved reading children’s books growing up, but took note that virtually none of them displayed characters that looked like her or represented children with disabilities.

Penland learned the same while taking a Children’s Media class in the fall of 2019, and after meeting and bonding with Moates at Auburn, the decision to collaborate on a children’s book with Moates was an easy one.

“As a future teacher and someone with a disability, we decided we should team up and share our unique story in book form,” Penland said. “It’s so powerful that we have a genuine friendship where we help each other with our strengths and weaknesses each day. We acknowledge that we have tons in common, but we also have our amazing differences that are worth celebrating.

“Whether people have a disability or not, we all have something special about us, so the book is really relatable to everyone, and we were so thrilled that the illustrations showed Anna so beautifully and accurately because children with disabilities need to see themselves because representation matters. Anna has really made her mark on campus and is such a trailblazer for others with Down syndrome and other disabilities because she is proud of her disability and doesn’t let it stop her from doing anything.”

The “two Annas” will start their busy day at 8:30 a.m. on Friday with a special reading at Dean Road Elementary School, then will follow that with a virtual reading with a class at Loachapoka Elementary School at 11 a.m. via Zoom before heading to the hotel and conference center for the book signing at 4:30 p.m. in the Terrace Room following the EAGLES Engagement Council meeting.

The Auburn University Bookstore located inside Haley Center has agreed to stock and sell the one-of-a-kind book, and the authors will be on-hand there on Saturday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. before attending Auburn’s homecoming game against Georgia State. They will then cap their weekend with a book signing at The Collegiate Hotel at Auburn from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Sunday.

Moates is the latest success story from the Education to Accomplish Growth in Life Experiences for Success program, known as EAGLES. Last December, the EAGLES celebrated its first group of Comprehensive Transition Program, or CTP, graduates in the state of Alabama.

“The book ‘Almost Twins’ is an illustration of how two students can connect, form a relationship and mutually improve the lives of one another through sharing everyday life moments,” said Betty Patten, the EAGLES program director and assistant clinical professor of special education. “The EAGLES program facilitated their connection, but it was their common interests, their support for each other and their ability to lean on one another that fostered a genuine friendship. Not only are they both great friends to one another, but they also encourage and support each other’s dreams!

“Anna M. is a prolific writer, and to see her dreams of being an author and superstar come true through this friendship is so inspiring. Both Annas are truly remarkable young ladies who light up any room they are in and make everyone better. I have no doubt that this book will positively impact the future of all people to create a more inclusive, loving and supportive world.”

Moates comes from a long line of Auburn students, as her grandfather earned his doctorate on the Plains and her father and two of her older sisters also attended the university. Her parents, Valerie and Ken, are both University of Alabama at Birmingham Optometry School graduates who practice in Americus, Georgia.

They could not be prouder of their family’s newly published author.

“Anna’s involvement with the EAGLES program has been a dream come true,” Valerie Moates said. “Not only has she been able to have a true college experience, but she has been able to become a member of the Auburn Family and share that legacy with her sisters, her father and her granddad. The EAGLES program has been extremely impactful in many ways, but the beautiful, lasting friendships are the heart of it all. And out of one of these very special friendships, this wonderful book was born.

“I’m so proud of both Annas for understanding the importance and power of this message. What a meaningful accomplishment!”

College of Education Dean Jeffrey Fairbrother also sang the Annas’ praises.

“This is a wonderful book and a fine example of the power and reach of our EAGLES program,” Fairbrother said. “We are proud of both Annas, and I know the book will not only help make others aware of our program, but also teach children about their peers with intellectual disabilities. Friendships and collaborations such as these are an important part of higher education, and these authors are shining lights representing the best of Auburn University.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.