Leah’s Voice

Leah's Voice9781612442402_p0_v1_s260x420Leah’s Voice

Lori DeMonia, Author

Monique Turchan, Illustrator

Halo Publishing International, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for ages: 5-8 years

Themes: Autism Spectrum, Siblings, Differences, Compassion, Kindness, Special Needs

Opening: Logan stood at the window waiting with excitement. Her friend Abby was coming over for her very first play date. As soon as a car pulled in the drive, Logan yelled out, “She’s here!” 

Synopsis: Logan looks forward to a play date with her friend Abby. She introduces Abby to her older sister Leah. They play a board game and invite Leah to play. But Leah leaves the room after her turn. Abby is upset that Leah won’t stay and play. Logan explains that her sister is uncomfortable around new people. Abby tells Logan that “next time we’ll play at my house.” Logan is sad about how her friend treats Leah and wonders why she doesn’t like her. Logan thinks about the similarities and differences between her and Leah. Her mother takes them to a movie and Leah has a melt down and ruins the day. Logan is angry and confused. Her parents explain that Leah has autism and that’s why she doesn’t talk much and gets upset easily. Logan tries to be patient and focuses on what Leah loves best, drawing pictures.

Why I like this book: Lori DeMonia knows first hand the confusion and challenge for a sibling who has an autistic sister or brother.  It is a fictional story inspired by her daughters. The story is told with such simplicity that young children will be able to read and understand. Siblings don’t know how to explain it to their friends. They are embarrassed by their behavior and angry when they have meltdowns and ruin family outings. Leah’s Voice is an important story about accepting differences and treating others with respect and kindness. It is perfect for the classroom. Monique Turchan’s illustrations are colorful and lively. They beautifully capture the emotion of the story.

Awards:  2014 Temple Grandin Outstanding Literary Work of the Year award from the Autism Society of America, the Mom’s Choice Award, the New York Book Festival 2013 Honorable Mention Award,  and the London Book Festival 2013 Honorable Mention Award.

Resources: Visit the website for Leah’s Voice to  see Leah’s artwork and find printable pages. For information about autism visit the Austism Society website.

Russell’s World

Russell's World9781433809767_p0_v1_s260x420Russell’s World:  A Story for Kids About Autism

Charles A. Amenta, III, M.D.,  Author

Monika Pollak, Illustrator

Magination Press:  Non-fiction, 2011

Suitable for Ages:  5 – 10

Themes:  Autism Spectrum, Sibling Relationships, Family Support, Differences

Opening“Russell is a kid with special differences.  He has autism.  This means his behaviors can be surprising in three big ways.  He likes to be alone…He can’t talk…He doesn’t play the way other kids do.”

Synopsis:  Russell is nine years old and has a form of autism which makes it hard for him to talk and learn.  He hums, babbles, giggles and screams.  He has two younger brothers, Benjamin and Gregory, who love Russell and play with him when he’s willing.  They also know when they need to leave Russell alone.  When his brothers have friends over, Russell leaves the room.  Benjamin and Gregory are important in helping Russell copy things they do through repetition.    Russell attends school where he learns sign language, manners and playing with other children.  But, there are times that Russell puts his relationship with his brothers to the test when he breaks their toys or throws tantrums during the night.  Unlike many children with autism, Russell, loves hugs and tickles.   He is happy boy with brothers who support him.

Why I like this book:  This story is a heart warming look into a family living with a child with autism.  It is written by Russell’s father, a doctor, who uses very simple language to help children understand autism.  The story is told through a collage of photographs of Russell and his brothers accompanied by colorful illustrations that create a background.  Very clever.   Throughout the story Dr. Amenta shares a situation, and then helps kids understand Russell’s response.  He’s also quick to point out that even though Russell may be nonverbal, other kids with autism do talk, have an easier time learning and have special talents.   He explains to kids that autism affects each child differently.  I feel that parents of an autistic child would find this book  useful in helping siblings understand the differences.

Since the book was first published in 1992, Russell and his brothers are now adults.  Russell runs a small envelope stuffing business and has a deep love of music.  Benjamin is a pianist and Gregory is a mathematician/physicist and percussionist.  Music is a very strong bond for this family.

Resources:  There is extensive back matter in the book for parents.  In using the book with children, ask them what is alike and what is different in Russell’s world compared to their own.  Siblings of kids with autism may see both similarities and differences between Russell and their brother/sister.

This book has been provided to me free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Emily Included – Cerebral Palsy

Emily Included9781926920337_p0_v1_s260x420Emily Included:  A True Story

Kathleen McDonnell, Author

Second Story Press, Biography, Mar. 1, 2012

Suitable for Ages:  8-12

Themes:  Cerebral Palsy, Disabilities, Special Needs, Inclusive Education, Supreme Court

Synopsis:  Emily Eaton was born with a severe form of cerebral palsy (CP) and had many physical challenges.   As a young child, her body was “floppy,” but she eventually defied doctors predictions and learned to sit, feed herself and walk with a special walker and leg braces.  She uses a wheel chair.  Verbal communication was difficult, although she learned to communicate with facial expressions and body language. Emily also had visual difficulties.  Because of her special need for therapy and teachers, Emily had attended a school for children with disabilities.  But at age five, her parents decided to enroll her in a public school so that she could interact with other children and become part of the community in which she lived.  Emily was nervous at first, but grew to love her school and new friends.  She attended school two years before the board of education intervened.

Little did Emily know she was about to face a great challenge in her life  — a school system that only saw her disabilities and not her abilities.  She was denied access to her second grade class.    This very strong girl only wanted the right to attend school like a regular kid.  With the support of her family, Emily  confronted the local board of education first.  This courageous girl ended up taking her case to the Canadian Supreme Court in the late 1990s.  Her fight became a battle for all children with physical and mental disabilities to have the right to be included in public schools.

What I like about this book:  Kathleen McDonnell has written an inspirational narrative about Emily’s remarkable journey to attend school with non-disabled children.  What I found fascinating was that Emily’s teachers and students found how much they benefited from her participation in school.  They all worked together as a team and enjoyed her presence in the classroom.  Teachers reported here were so many valuable lessons for everyone involved.  Her inclusion in school was groundbreaking for a child with severe CP in the nineties.   According to the author, there is still a lot of work to be done because “resources and funding remain major roadblocks to facilitating these rights in classrooms today.”   Emily however, graduated from high school.  You may visit Kathleen McDonnell at her website.

This book has been provided to me free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work.

Ellie Bean the Drama Queen!

Ellie Bean the Drama Queen!

Jennie Harding, Author

David Padgett, Illustrator

Sensory World, Imprint of Future Horizons, 2011, Fiction

Suitable for:  Ages 4 and up

Theme:  Processing sensory messages, neurological disability, teamwork with the family, therapist and school

Opening/Synopsis“With her unevenly cut brown hair, bare feet, and loud, munchkin-like singing voice, Ellie Bean spun wildly in circles in her backyard.  As the wind blew harder against her face, Elli Bean laughed and sang longer…and louder…and louder.  Her spinning became faster…and faster!”  Ellie’s mother yells for her to slow down.  When she suddenly stops  spinning very fast, she doesn’t  seem wobbly.  She takes off running after a butterfly.  She spots a bee and runs screaming into the house sobbing.  Her mother quietly asks her what is wrong.  But, Ellie is not able “to put her fear into words.”   Many things upset Ellie like the smell and taste of toothpaste,  the flushing the toilet, getting a hair cut.  For Ellie, everything is “too loud,  too scratchy, too painful, too tight, too smelly, too ouchy and too squishy,”  all of which send her into a meltdown.  Some people think she’s drama queen.

Ellie and her parents visit a specialist and learn that she has a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  An occupational therapist works with Ellie and her parents to discover what things make her feel better and calm her down, like swinging, spinning, jumping on a trampoline, brushing her arms and legs with a soft brush and wrapping her tightly in a blanket.  After her parents start using these exercises with her, Ellie  begins to use words to tell her mom what is bothering her.

Why I like this book:  Jennie Harding uses drama and a lot of action to show how SPD affects the quality of life for children.  She is the parent of a child with sensory-processing difficulties and a special educator.  SPD is a term used to cover a variety  of neurological disabilities, not just one.  Some children with autism have SPD.  David Padgett has created a very colorful and lively illustrations that beautifully compliment the story.  Harding says it is important the parents educate themselves and seek help.  An Occupational Therapist will know what tools can be used to ease the discomfort for a child, who has difficulty processing information that is received in the brain.   It is also important to train the child to listen to his/her own body.  Please read the Author Information about SPD at the back of the book.  She gives an overview and provides important resources and web sites for parents.

Resources:  Visit the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation , which is establishing an on-line SPD University, The Sensory and Motor Integration Website of the University of Texas at Austin, and the Sensory Integration Global Network for more information.  This is a book that could be used in the classroom to discuss sensory issues with students.  A lot of kids find things that are too ouchy, too itchy, too noisy, and too smelly.  This would help children better understand kids with SPD.  You could also have children draw pictures about what bothers them most.  This could lead to a lively discussion about similarities.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome

Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome

Clarabelle van Niekerk & Liezl Venter, MA, CCC-SLP, Authors

Clarabelle van Niekerk, Illustrator

Skeezel Press, Fiction, 2006

Suitable for:  Preschool to Grade 2

Awards:  2010 Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award, and the 2009 Mom’ Choice Award.

Themes:  Understanding a child with Asperger Syndrome, Helping the child succeed at home and at school, Teamwork

Opening“Sam loved to giggle.  He would close his eyes, throw back his head, and just giggle.  This would make everyone else giggle.  Sam was a happy boy but he was a little different.  He did not like loud noises.  He did not like to rough and tumble with other boys.  Making friends was hard for Sam.”  This is an endearing story about Sam, who  acts differently.  He lives with his parents, his sister and his dog.  Sam doesn’t like his pancakes to touch each other on the plate.  He doesn’t like to wear new clothes because they feel funny.  He builds puzzles by himself at school and the kids tease him.   A fair comes to town and Sam’s father takes him to ride on the Ferris wheel.   Sam loves the feeling of going round and round so much that he slips out of the house later that night and returns to the Ferris wheel.  That’s when his parents realize it’s time to see a doctor.

Why I like this book:  The authors give a realistic portrayal of child with Asperger Syndrome in an upbeat and happy way.   The illustrations are colorful and beautifully support the positive mood of the story.  They show how important it is for the doctors, therapists,  family, teacher and students to work together as a team to understand and help Sam.  Over the months Sam learns to interact with the other students and they include him in their activities.  And, Sam is given his moment to shine at a school event where he shares a very special gift.

Activities:  At the end of the book, the authors have a special discussion guide for students, family and friends.  They offer 10 very helpful tips for kids who have friends who may seem a little different.   These tips will promote a thoughtful and lively classroom or family conversation.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

I Am in Here: The Journey of a Child with Autism

I Am in Here:  The Journey of a child with Autism Who Cannot Speak but Finds Her Voice

Elizabeth M. Bonker and Virginia G. Breen, Authors

Revell, Baker Publishing Group, Oct., 2011, Nonfiction

Suitable for:  Parents, and Teens and Adults with Autism

Theme:  Autism Spectrum, Poetry, Finding a Voice

Synopsis:  Elizabeth was diagnosed with autism at age 13 months and lost her ability to speak at 15 months.  Until then, she was progressing normally.  She was diagnosed as mentally retarded by specialists, but her intelligence is now considered in the genius range.  Her older brother Charles also has autism, but is very talkative.  Virginia admits the autism journey is like riding a roller coaster as they heard of new treatments daily and had to make their own decisions about what would work for their children.   In their attempt to reach Elizabeth,      her parents worked with a woman who developed teaching method called Rapid Prompting Method (RPM).  The program worked for Elizabeth.  She began to write single-word answers and then full sentences with a letterboard.   From ages seven to thirteen, Elizabeth has written more than 100 poems, in which she talks about her inner world and her connection with the world around her.  She is a self-taught poet who was born with a gift to write.  I found it interesting that Elizabeth does her homework on a laptop computer, but writes her poetry on the letterboard.  I have told you enough about Elizabeth.  Now I want you to meet this beautiful soul.

 ME

I sometimes fear
That people cannot understand
That I hear
And I know
That they don’t believe I go
To every extreme
To try to express
My need to talk.
If only They could walk
In my shoes
They would share my news:
I  am here
And trying to speak every day
In some kind of way.   (age 9)

I wrote Me to let people know that even though I don’t speak, I feel and understand the world around me.  I want to be heard and respected.  I want that for everyone, especially for people like me.” – Elizabeth

Me Revisited

I can’t sit still.
What’s wrong with me?
My body is doing things
I can’t explain.
My dignity I am trying to maintain.
People Stare at me
When I rock and shake.
I don’t know how much
More I can take.
So much to deal with
Going on inside me.
I wish I could get better.
I want to be set free
From my silent cage.

“Some of the people at school who do not know me make me feel uncomfortable.  They stare at me.  I would not rock and shake if I could stop it.  It just happens sometimes  I wish they could understand, but mostly I wish I could explain it to them. ” – Elizabeth

Bright Future

When you see
A tree
Think of me
Growing strong and tall.

When you see
The Sun shining brightly
Think of me
Tough and mighty.

When you see
The water on the lake
Think of the future
I plan to make.

Me
Strong
Mighty
Free

Why I like this book:  Elizabeth’s book, co-authored with her mother Virginia, is an inspirational and powerful beacon that will offer much hope to parents with children in the Austism Spectrum.   It is a profoundly moving and spiritual journey between a mother and daughter.   Elizabeth shows great courage and determination in learning to communicate, despite the fact that she lacks fine motor skills to write.  She types one letter at a time with her forefinger.  Her optimism is remarkable as she wants people to find peace in her book.

For Virginia, “Elizabeth has become my teacher, and I am learning to think about life, faith, and relationships in a whole new way.  I have come to see the world as divided into Why People and How People.   Why People cannot be at peace until they answer the question of why suffering has befallen them.  How People ask “How can I move forward?  Having been dealt their hand in life, their focus shifts to how they can find whatever healing and wholeness is possible.”  For Virgina, her 13-year-old daughter is a miracle who has “shattered the silence of autism through her beautiful poetry.”   I Am in Here, is a masterpiece of poetry and prose.  And we are so fortunate to capture a rare glimpse into Elizabeth’s beautiful mind and world.

You can visit Elizabeth at her website I Am in Here, and read the first two chapters of her book for free under “Book” and “Read a Passage.”   You will also find  videos, resources and other information.    Virginia has also indicated that Amazon is having a Kindle special price of $2.99 for I Am in Here during the month of March. 

Autism Awareness Month is approaching  in April.  For information contact Autism Speaks .   Join Autism Speaks in celebrating World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and Light It Up Blue to help shine a light on autism. Whether it’s your front porch or your local city hall, an office party or a banquet, the entire world is going blue to increase awareness about autism.  The month will be filled with activities.  Among the buildings going blue last year were the: Empire State Building, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, Niagara Falls, Al Anoud Tower in Saudi Arabia,  Cairo Tower in Egypt, Great Buddha at Hyogo in Japan, CN Tower in Canada and Sydney Opera House in Australia.

In Jesse’s Shoes – Perfect Picture Book

In Jesse’s Shoes: Appreciating Kids With Special Needs

Beverly Lewis, Author

Laura Nikiel, Illustrator

Bethany House Publishers, Fiction, 2007

Suitable for:  Ages 4 and up

Themes:  Appreciating a sibling with special needs,  embarrassment,  teasing, acceptance, friendship.

Opening/SynopsisEvery day I walk my brother to his bus at the corner.  It’s not far, but it takes a long time because Jesse gets distracted by things like rain puddles, honeysuckle blossoms, and even ladybugs — which bugs me a lot.”  Allie walks with her older brother, Jesse, to the school bus stop every morning and endures his distractions, and the teasing and giggling of the other kids waiting for the bus.  She wonders to herself “Why didn’t I get a regular brother?”  She loves Jesse, but is frustrated and tired of being embarrassed by him.  Allie feels terrible about her feelings.  One  day Jesse meets Allie and tells her to put on his large shoes and instructs her to “do what Jesse does.”  Allie follows Jessie  and discovers the wonders of his world that she has not noticed.  That day changes Alli forever.

Why I like this book:  Beverly Lewis has written a story with a powerful message about acceptance for children.  I like that she told the story from Allie’s viewpoint.  Laura Nikiel’s illustrations are bright, colorful and filled with expression.  There are many children who have a sibling with a special need.  Like Allie, siblings deal with  emotions ranging from love to embarrassment.  It’s important that they have a way to express how they feel to someone who will listen.  Beverly Lewis comes up with a very creative way of helping Allie see life as Jesse does.   This is a good book for home or at school.  Activity:  Have students discuss what it means to “walk in someone else’s shoes” before you read the book.  Encourage them think of examples of people to share.  After you read the book,  have each child write a letter to Jesse to tell him what they learned from his story.

For those who want more information about siblings and special needs families, please go to Sibshops. They have developed a flexible curriculum that provides much-needed peer support and a safe place for kids to talk about their feelings and experiences.  The workshops are always a good balance of fun, friendship and support and help build a network of friendship and resources.  The Sibshop curriculum is used throughout the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Guatemala, Turkey, and Argentina.  Thank you Cathy Mealey for the information about this site.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

Following Ezra – Austism Spectrum

Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism and Love from His Extraordinary Son

Tom Fields-Meyer, Author

New American Library, Nonfiction, September 2011

Suitable for:  Parents, Family Members, Teachers, Special Ed Teachers

Synopsis: “The walk was always the same.  Then one day it was different.”  During the summer of 1999, Tom and his wife Shawn spent two months at a retreat with their three sons.  Ezra was three years old when they began to notice subtle changes and unusual behavior.  On an early morning stroll with his dad, Ezra took off down an isolated road.  Tom followed him for nearly half a mile.  Tom kept backing off to see if Ezra would realize he was alone and get upset.  Not Ezra.  He was utterly alone and in his own world.   Tom felt bewilderment and fear.  “Ten years ago I watched  my solitary son venture down an isolated road, ” said Tom.  “Long ago, I made a choice to follow Ezra, and to watch in awe and mystery, as my son makes his own unique way in the world.”

Following Ezra is a must read book for parents with children diagnosed with autism!  This is the most powerful, compelling and inspiring book I’ve read to date about how one family chose to reach their autistic child.  Instead of listening to a therapist tell Tom and his wife, Shawn, that they needed to “grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be,” they refused.  “When Shawn and I dreamed of starting a family, I carried no particular notion of who our children would become,” said Tom.   I didn’t carry any conscious notion of what my children would be like — whether they would be girls or boys, tall or short, conventional or a little bit odd.  I planned only to love them.”

Autism effects  each child differently  In Ezra’s case, he showed signs of isolating himself, playing alone, and hiding in closets.  He showed no fear, or didn’t understand consequences.  He liked to be wrapped tightly in a blanket so he could feel his body, but he didn’t want to be touched.  He spent hours lining up his dinosaurs in a row.  Loud noises and crowds overwhelmed his senses.   If you asked Ezra a question, he would look off into space and just repeat the question.

Although Ezra participated in special education classes and therapy that was available, Tom chose an unconventional approach to working with Ezra at home.  Tom decided that he  wasn’t going to “fix” Ezra, but rather follow him into his world so he could understand and find a way to reach him.   There are many moments of humor.

Instead of discouraging Ezra’s obsessions with trains, Gumby figures, the color red, and zoo animals, Tom saw it as an opportunity to build a relationship with his son.  Tom spent many afternoons with Ezra at the zoo.  He watched in amazement as Ezra happily followed his traditional path around the zoo pointing to animals and reciting information.  Tom discovered that the zoo represented order for Ezra,  as every animal was in its place.  This order helped calm Ezra.  Over time, Tom realizes that Ezra understands that his father cares about what he cares about.   The connection between father and son continues to grow,  as does his potential to have relationships with family, friends, and other people.  It also helps that Ezra is the middle child, as he is forced to interact with his two brothers.

Ezra is smart and memorizes numbers and dates of favorite Disney movies.  He begins to connect with people by asking their birthdays and then telling them what movie was released on that day.  He develops a fascination with cartoons and animations, because the faces have fixed, predictable expressions.  Tom enrolls Ezra in an animation class, and Ezra begins making animated films. (Click on  “The Alphabet House”  to view Ezra’s animation that  became a book he co-authored with Tom Lichtenheld.   E-mergency was released in October 2011.)

Ezra is gaining a sense of self-awareness by age 12.  It helps him prepare for his bar mitzvah on his 13th birthday.  His bar mitzvah really culminates in a celebration of the past 10 years of his life.  Ezra greets 300 people, shakes their hands, thanks them for coming, and fulfills the required chanting, recitations and speech.  This is a remarkable achievement for a boy who couldn’t look at people, and a testimony for Tom and Shawn’s perseverance, belief and love for their son.

Tom Fields-Meyer, a former senior writer for People, has written for dozens of publications, includig The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.   A graduate of Harvarard, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their three sons.  Follow Tom on his website at http://followingezra.com.   He travels and speaks to parent groups all over the country. 

Out of My Mind – Cerebral Palsy

Out of My Mind

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, 2010

Suitable for:  Ages 10 to Adult

Themes:  Cerebral Palsy, Intelligence, Interpersonal Relationships

Opening “Words.  I’m surrounded by thousands of words.  Maybe millions.  Cathedral.  Mayonnaise.  Pomegrante…Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes — each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands.  Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts.  Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas.  Clever expressions and jokes.  Love songs.”  Melody’s head is full of words and sentences.   She is  11 years old and has never spoken one single word.  Melody has cerebral palsy and is trapped in a body that won’t do what she wants it to do.  She is confined to a wheel chair, unable to move, walk, talk, feed  and care for herself.  Melody has a photographic mind, and is a very smart.  But no one knows that except Melody.  No one knows that her favorite song is “Elvira.”

Draper has written a very compelling novel and has given us a rare glimpse into Melody’s world.  She shows Melody’s frustration in having doctors, teachers and people talking about her like she’s “profoundly retarded and unable to understand.”  Her frustration  and her inability to speak can lead to “tornado explosions,” which only reinforces their beliefs that she’s severely brain-damaged.  Melody says, “I live in a cage with no door and no key.”  “And, I have no way to tell someone how to get me out.”  Draper has created a very strong protagonist who simply will not give up and fights to find that key to unlock the cage so people will know she is there.   She’s tired of going to school and being put in a special education classes and taught the same nursery rhymes and songs year after year.   She wants to learn.  She’s hurt that no one wants to be a friend and deals with constant bullying when she participates in inclusion classes.

Fortunately for Melody, she has loving parents who advocate for her, and a neighbor who drills Melody every afternoon on words she has written on flash cards to help Melody communicate.   Melody is even more determined, and one day she discovers a special computer that can help her speak.  Melody world begins to change once she gets her Medi-talker.  She is catapulted into some exciting new adventures that are also fraught with disappointment.  But this very courageous girl now has a voice, and she’s not afraid to express her feelings.  Hooray for Melody!

After reading Draper’s very moving novel, I believe there are very important things Melody would want you to know when meeting or working with a child with special needs.  Don’t talk about them as if they are invisible.  Don’t assume that they are brain-damaged and aren’t intelligent.  Always assume they can hear or understand you even if they can’t communicate.  Look directly into  their eyes and talk to them as if they understand you.  Treat them with respect and dignity.  Don’ talk in a loud voice, talk normally.  Don’t look away if you feel awkward.  Smile and say hello.

Draper is “fiercely adamant that nobody feel sorry for Melody.” “I tried hard to make her unforgettable – someone you would never dare feel sorry for,” says Draper.  “I wanted her to be accepted as a person, not as a representative for people with disabilities.  Lots of people have worse difficulties in their lives. As readers embrace the story, I hope that they will cheer for her!”

Sharon Draper is a two-time Coretta Scott King Award-winning author, most recently for Copper Sun, and previously for Forged by Fire.   Visit this award-winning author, educator, speaker, poet and National Teacher of the Year at her website (click here).   Her website contains interviews and information about all of her books.

I also want to say a special thank you to Cathy Mealey for recommending this extraordinary book to me.  Out of My Mind is one of my favorite reads this year.

The Best Worst Brother — National Down Syndrome Awareness Month

The Best Worst Brother is written by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, illustrated by Charlotte Fremaux and published by Woodbine  House for children 4-8 years.  It is a very realistic portrayal of how a sibling deals with her feelings about her brother who has Down Syndrome (DS).   The author’s text is simple, and is complimented by the illustrator’s lovely pastel paintings, which give a sense of tenderness to the story.  What I especially like is the fact that no where in the story is Emma’s brother labeled as having Down Syndrome — he is just different.  So the book has a more universal appeal.

Emma feels that her brother is the worst brother.  She liked Isaac better when he was a baby when she could cuddle and love him.  Now that he is older, she feels frustration and confusion.  As a baby, Emma has fun feeding Isaac  and  makes funny airplane sounds as she flies the spoon into his open mouth.  Now, he spits out his food and throws it everywhere.  Emma likes to make funny faces and watches Isaac giggle with glee.  Now that he is older, playing with Isaac has become a battleground.  Emma is impatient with Isaac’s slow motor and speech development, which is a common sibling response.   Emma and her parents learn sign language, but progress is slow and Emma is frustrated.   It isn’t until Isaac attends Emma’s open house at school, that  she realizes  he’s learning what she is teaching him.  When her teacher approaches Isaac with a plate of cookies he signs “please” and “thank you.”   Emma is so proud and decides that her brother is a keeper.   Sign language is often used with children with special needs like DS.  There is a Question and Answer section at the end of the book.

October marks the 30th anniversary of the National Down Syndrome Society’s awareness month.  For information please check out their website.

Woodbine House is holding a contest for talented  teen/adult writers and artists  with Down Syndrome  Woodbine House says that “many teens and adults with DS are incredibly talented and don’t always receive the recognition they deserve.”   Winners will receive an award and have the opportunity to see their work published in a high quality, full-color book.

Participants must be over 12 years of age, residents of the U.S., Canada or Mexico.  Entries may be submitted in many different categories that include fiction writing, poetry, song lyrics, cartoons, painting, sculptures, embroidery, weaving and other mediums.     For details on contest submission go to http://www.woodbinehouse.com/DScreativecontest.asp.    The deadline for entries is Dec. 31, 2011.

If you are a parent, teacher or an interested teen/adult with DS, please pass along the contest formation.

I became familiar with Woodbine House after reviewing a special series of books titled Off We Go! last April, and most recently The Best Worst Brother.   I discovered that Woodbine House is a leading publisher of books for children with special needs.  Many of their employees have a personal connection to someone with special needs — a winning combination for all involved.  You can view their books for children, parents, teachers and professionals at: www.woodbinehouse.com.

Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved