The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla

The Someday Birds

Sally J. Pla, Author

Harper Collins, Fiction, Jan. 24, 2017

Suitable for Age: 8-12

Themes: Birding, Family Relationships, Road Trip, Injured Father, Autism Spectrum, Different Abilities, Hope

Opening: “My hands aren’t really clean until I’ve washed them twelve times, one for each year of my life. I soap-rinse-one-soap-rinse-two, open my palms to scalding water, and repeat.  I do it quick, so no one notices…”

Book Jacket Synopsis:  Charlie wishes his life could be as predictable and simple as chicken nuggets. And it usually is. He has his clean room, his carefully organized sketchbooks and colored pencils, his safe and comfortable routines.

But his perfectly ordinary life has unraveled ever since his war-journalist father was injured in Afghanistan. Now his life consists of living with Gram, trips to the hospital, and wishing things were back to normal.

When his father heads from California to Virginia for further medical treatment, Charlie reluctantly travels cross-country with his boy-crazy sister, unruly twin brothers, and a mysterious new family friend, Ludmila. Charlie loves birding. Along the way he decides that if he can spot all the birds that he and his father have hoped to see someday, then maybe just maybe, everything might turn out okay.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming, compelling and hopeful debut novel by Sally J. Pla.  It is convincingly written  with skill and compassion. The family is in crisis mode. Charlie’s father has suffered a traumatic brain injury and is not responsive. It’s difficult for the siblings to deal with the unknown, especially since they’ve already lost their mother. Fortunately they have Gram to ground them.

The characters are rich, messy and real. Charlie narrates and guides readers through the trials of a 12-year-old who is trying to navigate a world that he doesn’t understand. His views are brutally honest and sometimes hilarious. Charlie’s voice makes this story sing. Kudos to the author for not labeling Charlie as being on the autism spectrum. His siblings treat him as their annoying brother with quirky behaviors and different abilities, like birding. Readers will cheer for Charlie as he steps outside his comfort zone, takes some risks and has a little fun. Gram is stern and loving, but amuses her grandkids with her sideways swearing with phrases like bee-hind, flipping heck and gosh-dang. Ludmila has an Eastern European accent and a painful story to share.

The setting is vivid and realistic with an adventurous cross-country road trip for the siblings with Ludmila behind the wheel of a camper, Old Bessie. They visit observatories, national parks, museums along their way. The plot is multi-layered with many themes. It is fast-moving with suspense, surprises and endearing moments. It is a story that celebrates family, heart, connection, love, humor and hope. Their  journey is one of healing and acceptance for everyone.

Even though this book is targeted towards middle grade readers, it is a book that would appeal to older teens and adults. This novel is a treasure! You may want to visit Sally J. Pla’s website.

Resources: April is World and National Autism Month. You may want to check out the following links for more information: Autism Society, Autism Speaks, Autism Acceptance Month, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Love for Logan – Autism Awareness Month

Love for Logan 61pCVoTdN7LLove for Logan

Lori DeMonia, Author

Monique Turchan, Illustrator

Halo Publishing International, Fiction, May 15, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 6 -9

Themes: Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism Spectrum, Sisters, Family Relationships, Love

Opening: “I’m too excited to sit still! I finally get to put my pink butterfly costume and sparkle wings on tonight for my ballet recital. I can’t wait for everyone to see me. But, I’m worried too. What if my whole family won’t be there?” 

Synopsis: Logan’s  tummy is flip-flopping with excitement as she dresses for her ballet recital. Her only worry is whether her older sister Leah, who has autism and a sensory processing disorder, will be able to watch her dance. While Logan gets ready for the recital Leah reads her a story. When Logan accidentally spills a metal tin of bobby pins on the floor, Leah jumps up, covers her ears and runs from the room. Dad promises to talk with Leah to help her understand what to expect at the recital with a lot people, clapping, and bright lights. Logan leaves for the theater with the hopes that her whole family will attend.

Why I like this book:

Lori DeMonia has written a sensitive and child-friendly story about Leah learning to understand and cope with the uncertainty and complexity of having a sister with autism and a sensory processing disorder. This heartwarming story is told with such love as the family works together to find ways to be part of each others lives.

Love for Logan is a fictional story inspired by the author’s daughters. It is a lovely sequel and companion book to the DeMonia’s first book, Leah’s Voice. It is written with simplicity so that children will have fun with the story and learn more about the impact of sensory issues on a sibling’s daily life. The ending is endearing because Leah wants her entire family to attend her ballet recital. Will Logan finds the courage to attend? Monique Turchan’s illustrations are warm, expressive and lively. They compliment the story.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) covers a variety of neurological disabilities, not just one. Some children with autism have SPD. It has an impact on every day life for the child and family. Many children like Leah,  find things are too noisy, too smelly, too itchy and too ouchy. It may cause children to behave in ways that are different from.

Resources: This is an excellent book for families dealing with similar issues. It is also a book that could be used in the classroom during Autism Awareness Month to discuss sensory issues with students. A lot of kids don’t like sirens, fire drills, scratchy labels, and smelly things. Encourage students talk or draw pictures about what bothers them most. This could lead to a lively discussion about similarities and help students better support someone with SPD. The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation has a wealth of resources and information.

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

All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism

April is National Autism Awareness Month

All My Stripes9781433819179_p0_v1_s260x420All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism

Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer, Authors

Jennifer Zivoin, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 22, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Autism Spectrum, Animals, Differences

Opening: Zane ran home as fast as he could.  “Nobody gets me, Mama!” Mama hugged Zane. He began to tell her about his bad day.

Synopsis: Zane the Zebra feels different from the rest of his classmates. He worries that all they notice about him is his red “autism stripe” located smack in the middle of his forehead.  During art class when the other zebras are working on their hoof-painting projects, Zane doesn’t want to get paint on his hooves and uses a paintbrush instead. The other zebras tease him.  During math class, the fire alarm blares. The other zebras form a line and leave while Zane hides under his desk screaming. After lunch he tries to join in the conversation with the other zebras and they ignore him. He worries that all the other zebras see is his autism stripe.

What I like about this book:

  • All My Stripes is a heartwarming book written especially for children with autism.  They will easily see themselves in this lovable zebra hero. As they follow Zane at school they will identify with his sensitivity to touch and sound, and his difficulty interacting with the other zebras.  Zane wants so much to fit in and just can’t figure out how to start a conversation. When the kids walk away, Zane starts talking louder.  I’m sure this will resonate with autistic children.
  •  Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer shine a light on the autism spectrum, but go a step further and show how endearing, unique and beautiful the children are in this inspiring story about embracing differences. Although the book is meant for kids with autism, its message really could translate to all children. It is also very entertaining.
  • I applaud the author’s use of stripes as a wonderful metaphor in the story. Mama zebra helps Zane feel proud of all of his stripes. She holds him up to a mirror and tells him the meaning of his stripes and how each pattern reveals something that is uniquely Zane: his caring stripe, his curiosity stripe, his pilot stripe, his honesty stripe and his autism stripe. Children will grasp this concept.
  • Jennifer Zivoin’s illustrations are bold, colorful and stunning.  They capture Zane’s emotions and exhilaration. Children will carefully pour over each adorable detail. Great collaboration between the authors and illustrator.

Resources/Activities:   The book has a wealth of information at the end. There is a reading guide that follows the book and tackles the problems that Zane faces in school. There is also a note to for parents and caregivers with tips on finding support. Encourage kids to draw a picture of a zebra and make their own unique stripe patterns.  Visit Hello Kids to learn how to draw a zebra.

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

Waiting for Benjamin: A Story about Autism

Waiting for Benjamin9780807573648_p0_v1_s260x420Waiting for Benjamin: A Story about Autism

Alexandra Jessup Altman, Author

Susan Keeter, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Co., Fiction, 2008

Suitable for ages: 5-9

Themes: Living with a sibling with autism, Brothers, Emotional Challenges

Opening: “My name is Alexander and I was born first. Then came Benjamin. We live in a stone house with Mom and Dad. After Benjamin’s second birthday we all waited for him to talk, but he didn’t say any words. He just wiggled his fingers and rocked.”

Synopsis: Alexander’s younger brother has autism. He loves Benjamin, but finds it difficult to play with him when he stares blankly at the wall, rocks back and forth or wiggles his fingers. Even when Alexander builds a cool castle with blocks, Benjamin throws himself on the floor. Alexander is angry, frustrated and disappointed. After a visit to the doctor, Alexander’s  parents tell him that Benjamin’s brain works differently and that’s why he isn’t talking and playing. They explain that when Benjamin wiggles his fingers the doctor says it feels so good that he can’t hear anyone speaking. Alexander lays in the grass and wiggles his fingers, but it doesn’t feel good to him. He stares at the sky and wonders what Benjamin sees. Two teachers come to help Benjamin listen, talk and play. Alexander is a jealous that his brother gets special attention. He’s also embarrassed to invite friends to play at his house.

Why I like this book: This is a very helpful introduction book about autism. But, not all autistic children are the same and make the progress Benjamin does. I like how it focuses on the emotional challenges siblings face when they have an autistic brother or sister.  Many siblings experience anger, frustration, embarrassment, disappointment, worry, and jealousy.  There is a Note from the author  at the beginning of the book for parents about siblings. Since this book is written for an older age group, I think it would be helpful to include information and discussion questions for siblings to help them share their experiences and feelings. Susan Keeter’s illustrations are very colorful, expressive and match the mood of the story.

Resource: Parents Helping Parents has interesting information on Sibling of Autistic Children Get a Chance to Express Themselves.  Check out the Autism Support Network  for sibling support.

 

Devin and the Greedy Ferret

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 Greedy9781449784294_p0_v1_s260x420Devin 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 Kennedy1-IMG_3043Leo 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

Autism, The Invisible Cord

Autism Invisible Cord9781433811913_p0_v1_s260x420Autism, The Invisible Cord:  A Sibling’s Diary

Barbara Cain, Author

Magination Press, Fiction, 2013

Themes:  Autism Spectrum, Sibling Relationships, Family Relationships

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Opening“If you were to see him riding his bike, smiling in the wind, you’d never know.  Ezra looks like any other sixth grader with faded jeans, turned-around cap, and messy bunch of butterscotch-colored curls.  You see, my brother is like any other eleven-year–old…except when he isn’t.  Like today.”

Synopsis:  Jenny’s younger brother, Ezra, has autism.   She shares her story about life with Ezra in a diary she writes daily.  Jenny is a 14-year-old student trying to balance her last year in middle school, with running a friend’s campaign for class president, auditioning for the  spring musical, and worrying about protecting her brother from a school bully.  Some times Ezra can be the biggest obstacle in Jenny’s life because she feels like her brother’s keeper.  At other times Ezra can be the most amazing brother.  When Ezra gets a service dog,  the invisible cord between them begins to loosen and Jenny begins to focus more on the things that she wants to do.    She discovers she is a very talented writer and works on a special school project.  Her dream is to attend a very prestigious summer writing camp.  It is Jenny’s time to shine.

Why I like this book:  Barbara Cain has written a beautiful and realistic story about what it feels like growing up with a sibling with different abilities.   Cain has created an engaging character in Jenny who shares the daily complexities of her life with Ezra — the frustration, embarrassment, worry, joy and hurt.  Cain writes with great sensitivity and authenticity.  I highly recommend this book for kids who have a sibling with autism, and for their parents.  This is also a good middle grade read in the classroom.  Barbara Cain, MSW, is a clinical supervisor at the University of Michigan’s  Psychological Clinic and has authored many books.  She has included some from very helpful pages of back matter for siblings.  You may visit Barbara Cain on her website.

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

Anthony Best

Anthony Best9781616089610_p0_v1_s260x420Anthony Best

Davene Fahy, Author

Carol Inouye, Illustrator

Sky Pony Press, September 2012

Suitable for Ages: 5 and up

Themes:  Asperger’s Syndrome,  Autism Spectrum Disorder, Friendship, Abilities

OpeningMy next door friend is Anthony.  If you ask Anthony his name, he always says, “My name is Anthony Best and I am the best..”  But do you want to know a secret?  He’s not always the best boy.

Synopsis:  Hannah narrates the story about her friend, Anthony,  who screams when he hears loud noises, crosses streets without looking for cars, and throws sand at kids in the sandbox.  But, Hannah likes to play with Anthony, even when he wants to play by himself.  When Anthony spins, Hannah spins.  When he’s in a flipping mood, Hannah flips her pages.  Hannah knows that makes Anthony happy.  She also teaches Anthony how to play with other kids.  One day a big delivery  truck pulls up in front of Anthony’s house.  The next day Hannah hears beautiful music floating out the window and follows the sound.  She is very surprised when she discovers Anthony’s hidden talent.

Why I like this book:  Davene Fahy may show all the things that makes Anthony different from other children, but she also shows how those differences makes him special.   This is a nice story that teaches children about their autistic friends and why they act the way they do.  I especially like how Fahy has Hannah following Anthony into his world so that she can better understand her best friend.  Carol Inouye’s illustrations are colorful, and expressive.  You may want to visit Davene Fahy at her website.

Resources: There is back matter at the end with suggested resources.  But the ending of the book is a great way to start discussions with children about differences and special abilities.

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.