Debut author Leo B. Kennedy is proving that young adults with autism can find success in the world, including the field of children’s literature. His book is not about autism, nor does it contain characters who have autism. I share this with you first because of the inspiration I hope it may bring to the many talented young people on the ASD spectrum. An interview will follow the review with Leo’s mother.
Devin and the Greedy Ferret
Leo B. Kennedy, Author
Chris Fowler, Illustrator
WestBow Press, Fiction, Feb. 20, 2013
Suitable for Ages: 8-12
Themes: Kidnapping school mascot, Racing high-performance cars, Friendship
Synopsis: Devin and his friends think it will be cool to kidnap the school mascot dog during a football game. But when they try to hide from the police, Devin and his friends only find themselves in more trouble when they end up crashing their truck onto Frederick Ferret’s property. Frederick wants to impose an extreme punishment on Devin’s friends. The only way Devin can save them is by striking a deal with Frederick. Devin travels with Frederick to Germany to drive a high-performance race car on the world’s most dangerous racetrack. Will Devin save his friends when he’s terrified of extreme speed and nearly tosses his cookies on the first round?
Why I like this book: Leo has written a very entertaining and fast-paced book with quirky and fun characters. Leo loves race cars and has turned his passion for cars into this witty book for middle graders. “I wanted characters that were daring, courageous, and funny,” says Leo. “I also required that none of them walk on four legs.” And they don’t. Chris Fowler’s cartoon-like characters add to the humor of the book. You can visit Leo B. Kennedy at his website where you can view a video trailer of his book and a video interview with Leo — both are very interesting.
I’ve asked Leo’s mother, Nan Kennedy, to talk about her son’s early years and answer some questions about his writing and publishing experience. Leo is now 21-years-old.
Leo was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. He had a number of difficulties throughout his childhood, and academic work was always difficult for him. Finding teachers along the way who really appreciated Leo for his talents and sense of humor made a significant difference for him. Leo generally didn’t perform well on standardized tests, often performing far below grade level. However, a middle school teacher noticed that if Leo was allowed to take as long as he wanted on a subtest where he would construct sentences out of random words, he actually performed beyond the graduate school level! That finding was just a curiosity to me at the time. But, when as a young adult he started writing a book, I remembered that sliver of ability, and it took on new meaning.
Did Leo like reading as a child?
[N] Leo has never been much of a reader, so it was a startling notion that he might write a book. I encouraged him as much as possible, because it was what he wanted to do. And, when I started seeing the finished chapters, my excitement began to rise. This could be a real book! There were engaging, funny characters, and exciting adventure, a plot with suspense, a couple of crisis points and a satisfying ending.
Was Leo involved in the entire process of publishing?
[N] Finishing the book was only the beginning. Getting it edited, illustrated, published, and then marketed are tasks in which Leo has been heavily involved, but in which he need extensive support. All of these activities are stretching him in ways neither of us initially expected. He is learning how to respond to questions in an interview and is preparing a speech for his book launch party. But he is stretching in other profound ways, such as agreeing to have his picture taken and videos made of him (after years of an obsessive avoidance of any camera), because he knows that people want to see what an author looks like. He just went shopping with me for new clothes, because he now understands that an author can’t wear sweatpants to a book signing.
Has writing and publishing a book done anything for Leo’s confidence?
[N] Leo says “positive things, for sure. In fact, it’s given me the confidence to write more books, including a special one.” Leo is still secretive about his future books, so I can’t get him to tell me what the special one is about. He also agrees that his role as a published author has given him greater confidence in social relationships and in pursuing his goal of living independently. It’s been a long road, and there are still many challenges to face. But Leo now sees a path for himself as an adult that he never did before. He also wants to act as a role model for other young people on the autism spectrum in pursuing their dreams.
Parents have written about the travails of raising a child with autism, adults have written memoirs about their personal experiences on the spectrum, and recent novels have been written from the supposed perspective of a person with autism. But where are the children’s fiction books written by a person who actually has autism? This book demonstrates to children, whether on the spectrum or not, that people with autism have real skills and talents, but is also a sign post of hope to parents concerned about their own child’s future.
Thank you Nan for sharing your thoughts about Leo’s journey. Leo keep writing! To your success, Patricia