The Moon Children

Moon Children41-eZ6u0MzL__SY300_The Moon Children

Beverley Brenna, Author

Red Deer Press, Fiction, 2007

Suitable for Ages: 9 and up

Themes:  Fetal Alcoholism Spectrum Disorder (FASD), Foreign Adoption, Friendship, Abilities

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Billy Ray is unhappy because his father has left home and the things they planned to do together aren’t going to happen.  His mother is pregnant, and works a lot.  A watchful older neighbor is a great cook, invites Billy to visit daily and treats him to a good meal.  School is hard for Billy because he has Fetal Alcoholism Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and he has many challenges.  He can’t sit still without falling out of a chair.  He is unable to focus on schoolwork.  Words get jumbled in his mind and he can’t read.  Billy is a target for bullies.  He wonders what’s wrong with him.  If only he can enter the talent show at the local park and impress his father with the 21 tricks he’s mastered with his Typhoon yo-yo.  Will his father show?

Billy needs a friend and discovers that one of his classmates, an adopted Romanian girl, lives across the street from him.  Natasha never talks and Billy occasionally gets her to smile.  An unlikely friendship develops between the Billy and Natasha and they share secrets.  Billy discovers Natasha is keeping a moon journal.  Every day she draws a picture of the phase of the moon and writes.  He feels her sadness and knows there is a hidden story she’s trying to tell.  His  friendship with Natasha show’s Billy’s many abilities — he’s compassionate, caring, and helps Natasha  when no one else can.  Even though he has his heart set on winning that talent contest, Billy discovers what is most important in his life.

Why I like this book:  Beverley Brenna has chosen complex topics and presented them in a very positive manner, focusing on abilities over challenges.  Brenna writes believable characters that stay with you long after you put the book down.  You don’t realize that Billy has FASD right away, but you experience the roller coaster he rides daily.   FASD is revealed when he overhears his parents talking about “the new baby won’t be like Billy.”  This comment upsets and confuses Billy until he talks with his mother and learns about her drinking problem during her pregnancy with him.  Brenna carefully handles this topic with concern for Billy and his mother.  Brenna also tackles the subject of  Romanian adoptions and the difficult adjustments for the children in their new homes in Canada and America.  This is an excellent book for kids with FASD to read so they can better understand themselves through Billy.  It’s also a good book for the classroom.

Resources:   Beverley Brenna has a teacher’s guide for The Moon Children.   Visit her website to view all the books she’s authored.   And, click here for information on the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS).  The website provides a wealth of information for those interested.

The White Bicycle – Autism Spectrum

The White Bicycle

Beverley Brenna, Author

Red Deer Press, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 14-17

Themes:  Autism Spectrum, Adolescence, Independence, Journey

Synopsis:  Taylor Jane Simon, a 19-year-old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, is back in the conclusion to Beverley Brenna’s Wild Orchid trilogy.   Although the books in the series are  stand-alone, each story features the spirited and strong-willed Taylor Jane.  In The White Bicycle,  Taylor travels to the South to the South of France with her mother, where she has a job as a “personal care assistant” for Martin Phoenix, a boy in a wheelchair  who is unable to speak without special equipment.  She has agreed to take the job because she wants to put in on her resume.   She cares for Martin, but her free time is spent traveling the French countryside on her white bicycle, trying to make sense of her past so that she can move forward in her life.  Along the way she meets an unlikely mentor who is somewhat of a mirror for Taylor.  Taylor  has one goal in mind — to become independent.

One of my favorite quotes in Taylor’s journal  is a conversation with her mother:  “There’s something I have been waiting for in order to be an adult.  It’s not having a boyfriend.  It’s not taking classes at the university.  It’s not getting a job.  I have done all of those things and I am going to keep doing them.  But they do not make me an adult.  I’m not waiting any longer Mom.  Because I know what I am waiting for.  I am waiting for you…to let me be free.” (p. 183)

Why I like this book/series:   First of all, the story is told in first person so that the reader has a front row seat into how Taylor thinks, feels and responds to the world.   The story is Taylor’s private daily journal.  Brenna has a gift of getting into the mind of her character so that the reader experiences Taylor.   Her characters are well-developed and you find yourself cheering for Taylor on her journey.  Secondly, this is the first series I have read where we actually follow a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome, graduating from high school, going to college, getting a job, leaving her comfort zone and traveling to a foreign country, transitioning from adolescence to adulthood before our eyes and struggling to gain independence from her mother.  This is a typical response, but even more powerful from a young woman with Asperger’s.  With so many children in the Autism Spectrum who will be making this transition in coming years, the Wild Orchid trilogy this is an important story for families, teenagers and teachers.  I enjoyed watching Taylor’s steady growth and strong spirit in the series.

Another point of interest point is the beautiful cover art for The White Bicycle.  It was done by artist Taylor Crowe, who was diagnosed at a young age with autism.  His artistic talent was nurtured by family and therapists.  Today he lectures about autism to educators, behavioral therapists, and families — a real success story.

I was first introduced to Wild Orchid and Waiting for No One, by my writing colleague  Beth Stilborn , a cousin of the Canadian author.  You can read her interview with Brenna by clicking on Beth’s name.   You may read my earlier reviews of the first two books,  Wild Orchid and Waiting for No One by clicking on the books.  There also is an interview with Brenna at the end of the The White Bicycle.

Update:  Beverley Brenna was awarded the Printz Award on July 15, 2013 by the American Library Association for her novel, The White Bicycle.  The Printz Award is given for the “best book written for teens.”  Click on the Printz Award to see the article.

For more information on helping your teenager make the transition to adulthood, contact Austism Speaks  for their helpful  “Transition Tool Kit.”  Over one-half million children will make this transition from adolescence to adulthood, and they will want to be independent, have homes,  jobs and friends.  

Wild Orchid, and Waiting for No One – Autism Spectrum

I was delighted when my writing colleague  Beth Stilborn introduced me to Wild Orchid and Waiting for No One,  written by Beverley Brenna, a Canadian author.   Please check out the interview with Brenna on Beth’s site.  Brenna writes about an 18-year-old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, who graduates from high school and begins  her journey into adulthood.    Since there is a large number of teens making this transition, Brenna’s books are very relevant and compelling reads for teenagers, parents, teachers and counselors.

In Wild Orchid, we meet Taylor Jane Simon as she graduates  and prepares to go with her mother to  Waskesiu, Saskatchewan for the summer, in Prince Albert National Park.    Taylor doesn’t like change, or her mother’s boyfriend, and is unhappy about the move.  Taylor’s teacher has encouraged her to keep a diary, so her story is written in first person.  Each chapter is a different length depending upon what Taylor has to say, or her mood.  Taylor’s  journal reveals her anger, disappointment, sadness, confusion, fear, anxiety, and courage to move forward.

Brenna really has a gift for getting into the mind of her complex character and showing how confusing life can be for someone with Asperger’s.  Taylor doesn’t like to make eye contact with people.  She finds social cues complicated and misreads responses from people.  Bright lights and noises bother her.  She hates the color yellow, and sneezes when she is near a yellow object.  She likes her daily routines and she counts everything in sevens.  She has meltdowns when she is overwhelmed.  She is intelligent and can quote facts verbatim.

Yet, Taylor perseveres and lands her first summer job in a nature center book store.   It is here that she begins to grow, discover independence, and gain self-confidence.   The summer in Waskesiu turns out to be good for Taylor and like any ordinary teenager she wants to make decisions about her future.   Taylor is very bright and has excellent verbal skills.  Taylor’s transition is a little more complicated since she falls under the autism spectrum, but her summer leaves the door open for hope for her future.

In Waiting for No One, Taylor has returned home from her summer in Waskesiu.  She has a new pet Gerbil, Harold Pinter, who plays a major role in her life.   She has plans and takes a biology class at a local university.  She rides her bike or takes the bus to class.    She participates in a dance class, travels alone by bus to visit her father in Cody, Wyoming for Thanksgiving, and looks for a job in a book store.

As her world becomes even more complex in this second book,  you find yourself cheering Taylor on as she steps outside of her comfort zone.   As a result, her obsessive-compulsive behavior becomes very apparent when she’s upset and feels out of control.  Swear words roll off her tongue at inappropriate moments, and add to the humor of Taylor.  Other issues of adulthood emerge.  She wants to become independent, when she feels there are others who want to hold her back.

Taylor meets a student in her class, Luke, and they become lab partners.   A real friendship develops between the two, and  Luke is very accepting of Taylor.  Luke invites her to his home to meet his brother, Martin , who has cerebral palsy.  Martin is unable to speak and uses an instrument on his computer to communicate.   Taylor sees Martin’s frustrations and she makes suggestions that are helpful for Martin, but upsetting to his father — more humor.  Taylor understands more than anyone how important it is for Martin to have rights and a voice.  Deep inside, Taylor wants to be seen as an individual and not as someone with a disability.   Some day she just might have that full-time job and an apartment of her own.

I was happy to learn that Beverley Brenna is writing a third novel about Taylor as she continues her path towards independence.

For more information on helping your teenager make the transition to adulthood, contact Austism Speaks  for their helpful  “Transition Tool Kit.”  Over one-half million children will make this transition, and they will want to have homes,  jobs and friends.   This is a societal issue.