My Sister, Alicia May

My Sister Alicia9780979203596_p0_v1_s260x420,jpgMy Sister, Alicia May

Nancy Tupper Ling, Author

Shennen Bersani, Illustrator

Pleasant St. Press, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Down Syndrome, Sisters, Bullying, Special Needs

Opening: BANG! Every morning Alicia May throws open my bedroom door. Crack! The “Stay Out!” sign falls to the floor.  “Here I am!” she crises “Rise and shine!”

Synopsis: In many ways, Rachel and Alicia are like any sisters. But Rachel knows her sister is very different, and very special. She has Down syndrome. Alicia May likes dogs and horses, is curious about ladybugs and dragonflies, talks to animals at the zoo and calls them funny names, loves to paint her nails, is friendly and gives good hugs. Sometimes Alicia May is annoying and embarrassing and Rachel doesn’t want to be around her. But, when boys on the bus tease Alicia May, Rachel is the first to stand up for her sister.

Why I like this story: This is a heartwarming story for siblings of children with Down’s syndrome. Nancy Tupper Ling based the story on the lives of two real sisters she’s close friends with.  It is a compassionate story that offers a peek into the daily life of a child with special needs and the complexities for the family. I like that the story is told from Rachel’s viewpoint.  Shennen Bersani’s illustrations are colorful pastels and almost photographic in their detail. Look at the pictures of the girls at the end of the book as she has really captured their features and personalities. Check out Nancy Tupper Ling’s website.

Resources: Contact the National Down Syndrome Society for more information on resources, success stories, transition tool kits, caring for your family and advocacy.


The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders

The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents)

Elizabeth Verdick & Elizabeth Reeve, M.D.

Free Spirit Publishing, Nonfiction, Self-Help, Mar. 22, 2012

Suitable for: Ages 8 -13 and Parents

Theme:  Autism, coping strategies, making friends, identifying feelings,  dealing with change and information to help families

Opening:  This book begins with a beautiful introduction to kids from the authors. “We don’t believe in can’t or never.” “If you have ASD, there are differences between you and other people.  But your life can be about can.   You can make friends, succeed to the best of your ability in school, be an awesome son, daughter, sister, brother, or friend, and learn, grow and connect with others.  Never say never.”  And there is a special introduction for parents that focuses on the uniqueness of the disorder.  “Each child is an individual.  They can’t be lumped together because of the vast differences in how they think, learn, feel, behave and communicate.” 

This survival guide is meant for a parent and child to read together so the material can be discussed and questions answered.  It is an informative and upbeat book for children who have been diagnosed within the autism spectrum to learn about themselves and their disorder, and to find coping strategies to deal with daily challenges.  Beginning with a description of ASD and its many symptoms,  this guide includes information about relationships with family members, making friends at school, community involvement, changing schools, feelings, communications, body language,  bullying, playing, relaxation, sleep and personal hygiene.

What I like about this book:   Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve, M.D., are both parents of children with autism and offer a unique perspective.  The guide has a wonderful balance of text, examples, tips from famous people with autism, colorful and  lively illustrations, and stories from kids with ASD.  The book is a great resource packed with tools that kids can use to navigate new daily experiences, find a calm-down space,  talk about a new emotion (I am upset), organize schoolwork and schedules, and eat a balanced diet.  I don’t recommend parents read the book from beginning to end with a child.  It is a resource that can be used when they need help.   The chapters are well-marked and topics easily located.   You will find that this guide will be very handy as your child enters many new developmental stages.  

April is National Autism Awareness Month.   According to a report released March 29 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated number of U.S. autistic kids has skyrocketed by 78 percent since 2000.  Now, one in 88 American kids has autism, according to the new figures.  Among boys, it’s one in 54.  The big question is “why?”   One expert said, “better diagnosis, broader diagnosis, better awareness, and roughly 50 percent of ‘We don’t know’.”   Another advocate said, “we have an epidemic of autism in the United States.”   For more information, visit Autism Speaks.

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.

Rules — Autism Awareness Month

 In wrapping up Worldwide Autism Awareness Month, I wanted to end my children’s book reviews with Rules, by Cynthia Lord.   This is a chapter book for children in grades 4-7, published by Scholastic Press.  The author won the Newberry Honor and the Schneider Family Book Awards in 2009.   Lord, is the mother of two children, one of whom has autism.  She is also a former teacher and behavioral specialist.

The book cover says it all, “No toys in the fish tank!”   It is one of many rules, that 12-year-old, Catherine has made up to help her autistic brother, David, understand his  world.  There are others too:  Flush!   A boy can’t  take off his pants in public.  This is Catherine’s room.  David must knock!  It’s okay to hug Mom, but not the clerk at the video store.  Don’t chew your food with your mouth open.

Rules, is a very convincing story about the challenges for siblings living with a brother/sister with autism.  For Catherine, it’s about wanting to live a normal life, which is not possible when life revolves around David.  Catherine is an endearing character, struggling with her own identity and wanting to have friends.  She has all the normal feelings of resentment, anger, embarrassment, frustration and jealousy that siblings share.   A diagnosis of autism is very hard on siblings.

Yet for  Catherine, it becomes a fine balancing act.   She loves and fiercely protects her brother, but she also has wants and dreams for herself.    A lot for a 12-year-old girl to handle, as she is attempting to come into her own.  The  rules begin to blur for Catherine as she becomes involved in other friendships.  You begin to wonder who she has really written the rules for — David or herself.   In the end, what is important to Catherine is that everyone is different in their own way.  And, that is okay.

This book is an inspirational read for siblings and their parents, and an exceptional  discussion book for  teachers and students.

Transition into Adulthood – Autism Awareness Month

As many youth within the autism spectrum transition into adulthood, the next decade will be an especially important time.  I want to share one of my favorite young adult fiction novels, where the protagonist is faced with that very challenge.  

Marcelo in the Real World, a brilliant and authentic novel written by Francisco X. Stork, allows the reader to experience the life of a high-functioning  17-year-old boy, who has a unique form of autism commonly known as Asperger’s Syndrome.  Stork has created an endearing  character in Marcelo Sandoval, who is raw and honest in the way he perceives the world.  The book is written in first person, although he highlights Marcel’s flat inflection of voice, his  use of third person in conversations,  and his obsessive interests.  He gives us a glimpse into his mind. 

Marcelo has led a fairly protective life attending private schools for kids with disabilities.  He is looking forward to a summer job as a stable man at the school, caring for the ponies.  As Marcelo ends his junior year, his father, Arturo, feels differently.   He wants Marcelo to experience the real world, and spend the summer working at his law firm interacting daily with workers.  Arturo strikes a bargain with Marcelo.   If he follows the rules of the real world and succeeds, he will be able to decide whether to return to his private school for his senior year, or attend a public high school.  

Marcelo works in the mailroom where he is supervised by Jasmine, a striking co-worker, who confronts Marcelo about his “cognitive disorder.”   Marcelo explains that the term implies that “there is something wrong with the way I think or with the way I perceive reality. ”  “I perceive reality just fine.  Sometimes I perceive more of reality than others.”  Jasmine is very accepting of Marcelo, and finds ways to use his strengths.    

Marcelo also will have to deal with Wendell, the conniving son of Arturo’s partner, Stephen Holmes.   Through his daily interactions with people at the firm,  it’s sink or swim for Marcelo as he learns to navigate  the real world.  Marcelo learns about  competition, anger, abuse of power, betrayal, envy, desire and compassion.  Marcelo is challenged to make very difficult decisions when he’s confronted with a situation of  injustice  in the law firm.  Will Marcelo be able to stand up to his father and Stephen, expose the truth and do what is right?   

Stork really took the time to create an engaging and educational experience for those wanting to journey into  Marcelo’s world.  An excellent book for teenagers and young adults.  It received the Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 2009, the School Library Journal Best Book for 2009, and the New York Times Children’s Book of 2009.

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.

Carly’s Voice – Changing the Voice of Autism

What a fascinating month to share interesting stories of the heroes of autism and the daunting work that goes into helping each child transform his/her life.   Although I am not reviewing  a book in this blog, I want to share with you a remarkable story of a teenager.

According to the organization Autism Speaks, 1 in 110 children are diagnosed within the autism spectrum, making it the more common than childhood cancer, diabetes and HIV.  One in 70 children diagnosed are boys.  In the U.S. alone, there are 1.5 million people, and tens of millions worldwide.   Thus, the reason I am going to feature a remarkable teenaged girl who has autism — Carly Fleischmann.   Carly, a twin, was diagnosed with autism at age three.  She has never spoken and she spent her life feeling trapped in her body.   One day she surprised her family and typed out three simple words on the keyboard — help  hurt  tooth.   She was sick and asking for help.  Learning to type on the keyboard unlocked her world.  The rest is history.

Carly was featured on a segment about inspirational teens, on CBS The Talk, April 15, with Holly Robinson Peete.   She has been featured on 20/20, The Today Show, ABC and the Larry King Show.   I hope you enjoy this remarkable video.

She has a website, Carly’s Voice – Changing the Voice of Autism at  and a Facebook following  with over 51,000 fans.  She is also wrote a novel of her life, which I found quite compelling.   She vividly describes in great detail what it is like to live in her body, which some times burns and feels like ants crawling on her skin.   “I am autistic, but it doesn’t define me,” says Carly.  “There are times when I wanted to give up, but I can’t give up hope.”

In the next decade, 500,000 children with autism will reach adulthood and it will become even more important that they are prepared for life, and society is there to embrace their transition.   Children within the autism spectrum are very intelligent and have unique talents in the fields of art, music, science, computers, and math.

On Friday, April 22,  at 2 p.m., The Talk will air the last of its series on autism.   They will focus on the autistic children transitioning to adulthood.  Autism Speaks has a special “Transition Tool Kit” on its website.

A Friend Like Henry — Austism Awareness Month

When I began reviewing books in honor of Autism Awareness Month, I never imagined how much I would grow in my understanding of the complexities of the autism spectrum, and the level of respect I have for those with autism and their families.   One of the things I have discovered is that no children are alike and their methods of learning may vary.  I found that in this wonderful story A Friend Like Henry, by Nuala Gardner.   An international bestseller by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Nuala  bravely invites us into her world sharing with great authenticity the pain, agony and despair  a  family with a severely autistic child copes with daily.   A nurse, Nuala recognized very early that her son Dale’s infant behavior didn’t seem right.  He was simply “the perfect baby.”    He was passive and rarely cried and slept through the night without a peep.  Everyone commented how good he was.  When she shared her concerns with her physician, she was dismissed.   As the months passed Nuala, began to see that Dale was addicted to motion.  When he was with other babies, he was unresponsive.  He learned to crawl quickly and when he discovered his legs he ran on his tiptoes.   One day at a play group, he sat next to a little girl, studied her and then wacked her in the face with a toy.   By the time he was two and three, severe tantrums began when something wasn’t on Dale’s terms.   And, his sleeping patterns changed — he would only sleep two hours at night.  Dale didn’t speak for a long time.  Nuala and her husband, Jamie, were exhausted.   Finally a friend recognized his behavior and recommended a doctor and he was diagnosed with severe autism.

After years of working with Dale, a small breakthrough occurred.   At a family outing, Dale met two dogs and began playing and laughing.   The Gardners had never seen their son so happy.  They took Dale to visit a litter of Golden Retriever puppies, and one dog in particular chose Dale.   The bond between Dale and his new puppy, Henry, literally changed his world.   Within three weeks of having Henry, teachers were reporting significant changes in Dale.   Through his unconditional love, Henry helped unlock Dale’s world and him how to feel, communicate and care for himself.   Henry helped Dale navigate in the world.

Although this book was written from his mother’s perspective, we gain some insight into Dale’s life through his recollections at the end.   There are a number of videos on the web about Dale and Henry.  Just click on:

Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes

Since we are midway through celebrating Worldwide Autism Awareness Month, I want to focus  on important individuals  within the autism spectrum who have been successful in life.  I discovered Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes, by Jennifer Elder, who has a son with autism.   This book is a chapter book for children, ages 8-12, with illustrations by Marc Thomas.   Quinn, is an eight-year-old boy, who likes baseball, dolphins and Egypt.  And, he has autism.   He’s shy,  doesn’t easily make friends, and feels different from other children.   One day he discovers that when he draws, other kids in his class gather around him.  For Quinn, drawing helps him find his niche at school.

Different Like Me,  is an exceptional book about the lives of  historical and famous figures who are in the autism spectrum that have made tremendous contributions during their lifetimes.  They have worked in the fields of science, mathematics, philosophy, art, medicine, literature,  music and entertainment  — all the time feeling like social outcasts. These people include Albert Einstein, Dian Fossey,  Andy Warhol, Andy Kaufman, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Andersen, Julie Bowman Robinson and Temple Grandin among others.   As Elder is quick to point out, tha diagnosis of autism wasn’t made until  the 1940s, by Dr. Kanner and Dr. Asperger, who began thinking about similarities in some of their patients.   She said it wasn’t until the beginning of the 21st century that “we learned more about autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.”

What I like  about this book, is that it really focuses on differences in people.   Elder creates short easy-to-read portraits of the lives of each famous person.   She shares their journey from childhood to adulthood to their achievements.  Each found a way to fit in through a talent as did Quinn.   Each famous person is a role model of what a child can do.  It is a book about what the human spirit can do if given the freedom to fly.   This is a book is a beautiful resource for children with autism, their families, friends and teachers.

I want to mention again, that Friday, April 15, at 2 p.m. EDT, the daily CBS, The Talk, will feature a discussion with inspirational teens who are autistic.   They have done a segment every Friday to promote Worldwide Autism Awareness Month.

“Not My Boy!” — Autism Awareness Month

Yesterday I reviewed My Brother Charlie, and talked about the HollyRod Foundation, launched by Holly Robinson Peete and Rodney Peete.   On Friday,  the weekday CBS Show, The Talk, focused on fathers with autistic children.  Rodney,  actor Joe Mantegna, and single dad Jimmy Smith,  shared their experiences in a roundtable discussion led by Holly.  After watching the program, and reading Rodney’s book, Not My Boy!,  it felt significant to discuss the impact on dads, who sometimes feel left out of the equation.

Joe Mantegna has a 23-year-old daughter, Mia, who graduated with honors.  Joe said “he was relieved the first day of school when Mia’s teacher, who had an autistic child, welcomed her with love and talked to the classroom about how they all would help her.”   Jimmy Smith said he woke up one day when he realized that his son had an excellent memory and wanted to learn.  All three men said they were just glad to talk with other dads!

Rodney, a former NFL quarterback, was candid about how his son’s autism affected him.  “I had dreams for R.J. and wanted to do all the things that father’s do with their sons,”  said Rodney.  “I wanted to take him into the locker room, play ball,  but R.J. wanted to watch the water run across the rocks in a stream.  I was in denial, refused to accept R.J.’s diagnosis, would not read any books on the subject,  and wouldn’t talk to other dads.  I decided I am going to fix this.   That’s what dads do.”

One day Rodney had a pivotal moment when he took R.J. to the therapist.  “I got down on the floor and tried to play with R.J.,  and there was no connection,”  he said.  “The therapist showed me how he connected with R.J., and within minutes I saw my son laughing and talking.   It broke my heart — a stranger was connecting with my son.  In that moment I knew I had to turn things around.”    He realized that the entire family needed to be on the same page. Today R.J. has gone beyond expectations and plays soccer, with his dad there cheering him on.

Not My Boy!  should be required reading for all father’s who have children who fall under the autism spectrum.   It is a powerful look at Rodney’s own inner journey with his son’s autism.  It offers a message of hope and inspiration for families.

Next Friday, Apr. 15, at 2 p.m. EDT, The Talk, will feature inspirational teenagers who are autistic.

Visit elizabethannewrites  and read reviews of two excellent young adult books that honor Autism Awareness Month.

Autism Awareness Month

April has been designated  World Autism Awareness Month.   On April 1 and 2, landmark buildings like the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Universal Studios, the CN Tower in Toronto, the Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and many other businesses and universities worldwide were illuminated  in blue to honor this signficant campaign to educate the public.

Many of you may remember actress Holly Robinson Peete on “Celebrity Apprentice,” in 2010, vying to win money for the charity she and her husband Rodney Peete, former NFL quarterback, started — the HollyRod Foundation.  Their eldest son, R.J.,  was diagnosed at age three with autism.   Holly has become a leading voice in America for children with autism.   She’s on the new CBS weekday show “The Talk,” which airs at 2 p.m. EDT.  Every Friday in April, “The Talk”  has devoted a segment to autism awareness.  Today, Apr. 8, there will be a discussion on fathers of children with autism;  Apr. 15, the show will profile inspiring teens with autism; and Apr. 22,  will focus on what happens to autistic children when they grow into adulthood.   Rodney has written a book for father’s called, Not My Boy!

It  is only fitting that I review  My Brother Charlie, written by Holly and her daughter, Ryan Elizabeth Peete.  This beautiful and heartwarming  story is told  from a siblings viewpoint.  The illustrations, by   Shane W. Evans, are vibrant and engaging.  The book has won the 2011 Image Award for Literature.

” My goal with this book is to let kids and their parents in on a little secret:  Kids with autism are valuable human beings with real feelings, even though they can’t always express them, ” says Ryan Peete.  “I feel it is up to those of us who don’t have autism to change ourselves so that we can better understand people who have it.”   She did that very thing when she was in fourth grade and designed an Autism 101 for her class.

In My Brother Charlie, Callie and Charlie begin their life together as twins in their mother’s tummy.  Throughout their lives they share many of the same things other children do.  But, Callie soon begins to realize simple differences.  Charlie won’t play with her, laugh,  kiss Mommy on the cheek and ruins her playdates.   Callie wishes at times she could “crawl into Charlie’s world to move things around for him.”   She also realizes the things Charlie can do like playing the piano,  running fast and the first time he comforts her when she is hurt and says, “Don’t cry, Callie, I love you.”

This book is authentic and  inspirational.  It will capture your heart.   The authors show how a family pulls together to help bring out the very best in  Charlie and themselves.   As Callie so beautifully says, “Charlie has autism.  But autism doesn’t have Charlie.”  And, “I’m blessed to be Charlie’s sister and to share so much.  I count my ‘Charlie Blessings’ every day.   At the very top of my ‘Charlie Blessings’ list is the love Charlie and I have for each other.”

A percentage of the royalty earnings of My Brother Charlie will go to the HollyRod4Kids Foundation to help children with autism gain access to affordable treatment and therapies.  Inspired by her father and son, the HollyRod Foundation was founded in 1997  and is dedicated to providing compassionate care to those living with Autism and Parkinson’s disease.   The website is:

Other noteworthy websites include: and