Caterpillars Can’t Swim by Liane Shaw

Caterpillars Can’t Swim

Liane Shaw, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Pages: 256

Suitable for Ages: 13-18

Themes: Cerebral Palsy, LGBT, Depression, Family Relationships, Bullying, Homophobia, Prejudices, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis: For sixteen-year-old Ryan, the water is where he finds his freedom. Ever since childhood, when he realized that he would never walk like other people, has loved the water where gravity is no longer his enemy. But he never imagined he would become his small town’s hero by saving a schoolmate from drowning.

Jack is also attracted to the water, but for him it’s the promise of permanent escape. Disappearing altogether seems better than living through one more day of high-school where he is dogged by rumors about his sexuality. He’s terrified that coming out will alienate him from everyone in town — and crush his adoring mother.

Ryan saves Jack’s life, but he also keeps his secret. Their bond leads to a grudging friendship, and an unexpected road-trip to Cosmic Con with Ryan’s best friend Cody, the captain of the swim team. They make an unlikely trio but each of them will have the chance to show where he is brave enough to go against the stereotypes the world wants to define him by.

Why I like this story:

Liane’ Shaw’s examines the paralyzing impact of bullying on teens in this raw, honest and emotional novel. What stands out for me is the prejudice against two teens — one who has a physical disability and the other teen who is struggling with his sexual identity.  This is the first time I’ve seen the differences appear together in a compelling story, especially when the teen who is disabled is the hero.

The characters drive the action in this story. The main character Ryan, was born with cerebral palsy and has spent his life in a wheelchair. However the story really doesn’t focus on his disability, but his funny, upbeat personality and his role on the school swim team. Jack is sad and depressed. He has no friends, and keeps to himself. Ryan befriends Jack, listens to his pain as he deals with his identity, and keeps his secrets. Kids suspect that Jack’s gay and bully him. Ryan’s friend, Cody, steps in when he sees the school bullies harassing both Ryan and Jack after school.  Cody is hyper, wacky, funny, obnoxious, and someone you can dislike one moment and love the next. He provides for a lot of comic relief in the story.

I really liked the metaphor of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, a mirror of what happens when three unlikely teens come together to support each other. Especially Cody, who is homophobic. His growth as a character meant the most to me.

The plot is multi-layered, brave and complicated. Jack’s drowning happens early in the story with a lot of drama and action. Readers may wonder where the story is headed. But the pacing is fast, engaging and lighthearted at times. There is  more to this deeply moving novel that readers will find appealing.  It is an inspiring story about family, friends and hope.

Liane Shaw is the author of several books for teens, including thinandbeautiful.com, Fostergirls, The Color of Silence, and Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell. Liane was an educator for more than 20 years and lives with her family in Ontario.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

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.

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.

Reaching for Sun — Cerebral Palsy

Reaching for Sun

Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, author

Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2007,  Fiction, Middle Grade

Suitable for ages: 8 and up

Theme: Cerebral Palsy, Friendship, Disabilities, Single-families

Reaching for Sun is a touching story about Josie Wyatt, a 13-year-old girl, who has a disability.  The novel is written in free verse from Josie’s viewpoint.  It’s simplicity and charm linger with you.  I read it in one afternoon as I couldn’t put it down.   The book is divided into four sections, each representing a season, and the chapters are short.  Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, won the Schneider Family Book Award, which honors an author or illustrator for “an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”   She certainly is deserving of the honor.

Josie has a mild form of cerebral palsy and wears leg braces.  She knows what it feels like to be different.  Josie attends special education classes at school, and physical, occupational and speech therapy at a clinic.  She experiences social isolation and teasing from classmates.  Josie wants to forget she has a disability.  What she wants most is to have one friend.  She lives on an aging farm with her busy mother, and Grandmother.  She loves the patch of woods around her, nature and working in the gardens with Gran, who teaches Josie everything she knows.   I believe verse works very well because it showcases Josie’s love of nature and the world around her.  To hear Josie comment, “I’m the wisteria vine growing up the arbor of this odd family, reaching for sun,” resonates with her world.

She finds a friend in 12-year-old geeky, Jordan who is a walking encyclopedia on science and nature.   Jordan lives in the neighborhood behind her farm with his widowed father, who has little time for his son.  Jordan is very accepting of Josie, and understands what it feels like not to fit in. They become best friends.  Jordan quickly becomes a member of  Josie’s family and spends hours with them in the gardens.  Says Josie, “He’s always excited about some new experiment to try in the garden or at the lab in his new basement.  But I’ve learned this fact for myself:  Days spin faster than a whirligig in a spring storm by the side of my new friend.”

Reaching for Sun is a beautiful coming-of-age novel that will captivate your heart.  Readers will enjoy spending time with Josie and learning about her world.   I applaud the author for not dwelling on Josie’s cerebral palsy.  Instead we watch Josie blossom throughout the year, and become more than her disability.

Tracie Vaughn Zimmer taught high school children with autism and middle grade school children with developmental and learning disabilities.   Tracie has created hundreds of guides for children’s and young adult literature that are available for free on her blog.  There is a special guide for Reaching for Sun in the Teacher Resources section.

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